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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Water Ways: Mid-Atlantic Maritime Communities

Some Common Fish of the Mid-Atlantic Waters

The following fish are some of the most important to Mid-Atlantic commercial fishermen. These are only a few of the thousands of aquatic species in the Mid-Atlantic ocean, bays and river waters.

American Eel

American Eel

Scientific Name: Anguilla rostrata
Local Name: Eel
Habitat: Muddy bottoms and calm waters all along the Atlantic coast
Season: February through September
Method of Fishing: Eel pots or fyke nets, using any kind of cut bait (including horseshoe crabs)
Interesting Facts: All mature eels from the Atlantic Ocean return to the Sargasso Sea (in the Bermuda Triangle) to spawn and die. American eels are eaten most in Japan and Europe. Eels are also used as crab bait. Immature eels are called "elvers." Eels can grow to 3 feet long.
American Shad

American Shad

Scientific Name: Alosa sapidissima
Local Name: White shad, "poor man's salmon"
Habitat: Lives in ocean and bays but spawns in rivers
Season: Spring while spawning, limited ocean catch rest of year
Method of Fishing: Haul seine, pound net, gill net, drift net
Interesting Facts: Due to low stocks, shad fishing was prohibited in Maryland bays and rivers in 1980 and in Virginia in 1994. Shad stocks look more promising in the Delaware and Hudson rivers. Shad is related to herring. First shad catch by fly-rod dates back to 1930. The largest on record was 2 feet, 6 inches.
Blue Crab

Blue Crab

Scientific Name: Callinectes sapidus
Local Name: Blue claw crab, jimmies (males), sooks (females), soft crab (when molting)
Habitat: Atlantic coastal bays, rivers, and creeks
Season:Spring, summer, fall (winter dredging in Virginia only)
Method of Fishing: Pots, baited hooks (trot lines), dredging
Interesting Facts: Female crabs have triangular-shaped abdomens, while male abdomens resemble an inverted "T." Soft-shell crabs can be eaten whole. Removing meat from crabs is called "picking." Chesapeake Bay accounts for 50% of total U.S. crab landings. The blue crab's scientific name translates as "beautiful swimmer that is savory."
Horseshoe Crab

Horseshoe Crab

Scientific Name: Limulus polyphemus
Local Name: None
Habitat: Atlantic coast from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico
Season: Year round
Method of Fishing: Dredging and trawling
Interesting Facts: Horseshoe crabs are called "living fossils" because the species has not changed in 300 million years. They are not true crabs, but are actually related to spiders. Horseshoe crabs have four eyes. Their blood is used in medical research.
Eastern Oyster

Eastern Oyster

Scientific Name: Crossostrea virginicus
Local Name: Atlantic oyster
Habitat: Bottoms of bays and rivers of the Atlantic
Season: November through March
Method of Fishing: Hand and patent (mechanized) tonging, dredging
Interesting Facts: Oysters filter impurities out of water; scientists calculate that in earlier days when they were more numerous, they could have filtered the whole Chesapeake Bay in six days. The same oyster can be male or female at different times in its life cycle. Americans eat more oysters than any other people in the world.
Hard Clam

Hard Clam

Scientific Name: Mercenaria mercenaria
Local Name: In stages from smallest to largest: little necks, top necks, cherrystones, chowders
Habitat: Tidal bottoms, sheltered bays, and coves from Florida to the Gulf of St. Lawrence
Season: Year round
Method of Fishing: Hand and patent tonging; hydraulic dredging; hand raking or digging
Interesting Facts: Clamshells were once used as a form of money by Mid-Atlantic Native American peoples. The smaller the clam, the more tender and expensive it is.
Whelk

Whelk

Scientific Name: Busycon canaliculatum
Local Name: Conch (pronounced "konk"), winkle
Habitat: Atlantic coast
Season: Year round
Method of Fishing: Pots, often baited with horseshoe crabs
Interesting Facts: The whelk is actually a large edible snail. In the Mid-Atlantic, the whelk is called a "conch" and is a cousin of the better-known Caribbean variety (queen or pink-lipped conch), whose shells are prized by collectors.
Shrimp

Shrimp

Scientific Name: Panaeus aztecus, P. duorarum, and P. setiferus
Local Name: Brown, pink (or spotted), and white (or green tail) shrimp
Habitat: Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Coast
Season: Pink shrimp are fished in the spring, brown in the summer, and white in the later summer and fall
Method of Fishing: Net (hand seine or trawling), mostly at night
Interesting Facts: Locally called "bugs" and considered a trash fish until around 1912, they are now one of the most popular shellfish in the country. Their name comes from the old English word "shrimpe," meaning puny person.
Striped Bass

Striped Bass

Scientific Name: Morone saxatilis
Local Name: Rockfish, striper
Habitat: Chesapeake Bay
Season: Mid April-October
Method of Fishing: Net fishing (gill nets and pound nets)
Interesting Facts: In the 1980's a moratorium was placed on net fishing to preserve the dying species. Striped bass migrate up rivers and streams to spawn, an unusual characteristic for fish. They actually always migrate to the river which they themselves were born to spawn.