Bluefish by Bottom Trawl (USA)

Mid-Atlantic Coast — Bluefish




Jan 01 - Dec 31

Bottom Trawl

Fish harvesters drag a large cone-shaped net along the seafloor to catch groundfish such as bluefish, flounder, monkfish, haddock, cod and pollock. The net is sunk and held open by two “otter boards” that look like large, heavy steel or wooden doors. As the net is towed at low speed, hydrodynamic forces push the boards outwards opening the mouth of the net and capturing fish in its path. The net is then hauled to the surface using hydraulic winches and a drum. A single tow can net thousands of fish along with incidental catch.

Harvesting Method

Bottom Trawl

Also known as “dragging,” bottom trawling uses a large net made of polyethylene to catch fish. Steel or wooden doors spread the net open. Floats are attached to the upper mouth of the net to keep it open vertically and weighted “bobbins” are attached to the lower mouth to sink the net. The bobbins’ design depends on the terrain, varying from small rubber discs for smooth sandy seafloors to large metal balls for rough ground. Known as “rock hoppers,” bobbins lift the net over obstacles on the seafloor.

Bottom Trawl

In New England, many different species are caught in bottom trawls. These include bluefish, Atlantic cod, haddock, pollock, yellowtail flounder, witch flounder, winter flounder, windowpane flounder, American plaice, Atlantic halibut, redfish, ocean pout and white hake. Most trawlers are federally permitted to catch multiple groundfish species. Some trawlers also have state permits to catch allocations in state waters.

Conservation Measures

Bottom trawls disturb habitat when dragged along the seabed, and impacts vary by sediment type and the trawl gear used. Undersized and unwanted species (bycatch) are also unintentionally caught.

The bluefish trawl fishery is managed jointly by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Individual states may set different regulations for the commercial fishery than those in place for federal waters. The total quota is allocated to each of the coastal states from Maine to North Carolina, based upon fixed percentages. A number of federal and state measures address conservation in this fishery, including:

  • annual catch limits
  • limitation on the number and size of licensed fishing vessels in the fishery
  • requirement for a vessel monitoring system or interactive voice response system to monitor fishing vessels which have an annual catch entitlement
  • requirements to register with authorities which species and area to be fished before leaving the dock
  • requirement to maintain on board and submit vessel trip reports for all fishing trips, regardless of species caught

In this lobster fishing area, fish harvesters actively participate in scientific data collection and research such as:

  • a comprehensive data collection system on catches
  • scientific sampling of lobsters at sea
  • maintaining catch logbooks and scientific field notebooks

Mid-Atlantic Coast


FishWatch - Click for status

Seafood Watch - Good Alternative


Jan 01 - Dec 31


Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission jointly manage this fishery. Individual states may set different regulations for the commercial fishery than those in place for Federal waters. Visit NOAA’s Fisheries Service for the most recent management plan. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. 


For stock status, visit the Northeast Regional Office of NOAA’s Fisheries Service.

Quality and Handling

Bluefish caught by bottom trawls are hauled aboard and stored in ice or a mixture of ice and seawater. A group of trawlers operate as day-boats out of Point Judith, Rhode Island, although vessels can stay at sea for about a week.

Harvesting Area

Bluefish are managed as part of the Mid-Atlantic Management Area extending from the near-shore waters of Maine to North Carolina.


Food Info Bluefish


  • Colour: a light putty colour to blue-gray with a brownish tinge; lighter when cooked.
  • Texture: coarse, moist fillets with edible skin.
  • Flavour: rich, strong flavour; larger fish have stronger flavouring.
  • Perfect serve: Given its rich, strong flavour, bluefish nicely complements acidic ingredients like lime, lemon and tomato. Simply brush a fillet with mustard or mayonnaise and broil it. Large fish are typically too oily to be fried.