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Marine Life

The marine waters of New York offer valuable habitat to a range of sea creatures, from large marine mammals and sea turtles, to the smallest microorganisms that support the ocean food chain and ecosystem. Much of the marine life found off New York's coast are found here year-round, while other organisms migrate seasonally through our ocean and estuaries. Some of the least nomadic creatures found in our marine waters include saltwater shellfish (mollusks) and marine invertebrates, such as crabs and lobsters.

Saltwater Fish of New York

Several saltwater fish species support both New York's renowned recreational fishing industry and economically significant commercial fisheries. Some of the largest and famed fish species found in the ocean are the diverse collection of sharks. Sharks are completely cartilaginous fish, which means they have no true-bones, compared to more familiar fish that have complete skeletons.

Learn more about the most commonly occurring fish species below:

ocean waves on a beach
striped bass illustration
Striped bass

Striped bass can be found along the Atlantic coast from Canada to Florida and can live up to 30 years. They are anadromous which means they migrate from saltwater into fresh water to spawn. They migrate north in the spring, and back south in the fall where they overwinter offshore. Striped bass can live up to 30 years and can be found on our artificial reefs searching for a meal.

Summer flounder (Fluke) are found from Nova Scotia to Florida and can live up to 14 years. They are bottom dwelling fish that camouflage themselves in the bottom and ambush unsuspecting prey. Fluke migrate inshore in the spring and offshore in the winter. They begin their lives with eyes on both sides of their body which migrate to the left side in about a month. They can live up to 14 years and can be found on the bottom in and around artificial reefs.

black sea bass illustration
Black sea bass

Black sea bass can be found on the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida and can live up to 20 years. In the northeast, they migrate inshore in the summer and offshore in the winter. As ocean temperatures have warmed, black sea bass populations have expanded northward. Black sea bass begin their lives as females and become males as they age. This transition usually occurs between 2-5 years old. Black sea bass can live up to 20 years. These fish are structure associated and are commonly found at rock bottoms near pilings, wrecks, and jetties. highly sought after on artificial reefs.

Winter flounder are found from Labrador to Georgia and can live over 15 years. They are bottom dwelling fish that eat copepods, amphipods, and polychaetes. Winter flounder migrate inshore to spawn in the winter and offshore in the spring. Like fluke, they begin their lives with eyes on both sides of their head and the left eye migrates to the right side of the body in a little over a month.

bluefish illustration
Bluefish

Bluefish can be found in temperate waters through much of the world. They are fast growers and can live up to 12 years. Bluefish migrate into New York waters in the spring and summer. They are voracious predators and are known for their sharp teeth which they use to make quick work of their prey. They can live up to 12 years, and migrate into New York waters in the spring and summer. Bluefish stop at artificial reefs to feed and are sought after for their fight and willingness to attack lures thrown their way.

Blackfish (Tautog) are found along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to Georgia. They are slow growing and can live up to 40 years. They migrate inshore during the spring and offshore as the water temperature drops through the fall. They have strong jaws and teeth which they use to chew up crabs, mussels, clams, and barnacles. Blackfish utilize structure as habitat and are commonly found around natural and artificial structures. Blackfish are one of the prized and commonly sought after species on our artificial reefs.

scup illustration
Scup (Porgy)

Scup (Porgy) are primarily found between Massachusetts and North Carolina. They are a schooling fish that can live up to 20 years. They migrate inshore during the spring and their abundance in an area is often influenced by water temperature. are found on artificial reefs feeding on benthic invertebrates. They are a popular sportfish that provide a good fight for their size.

Atlantic cod are a cold-water species that can be found from Greenland to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. They spawn in the winter and early spring and can live over 20 years. Cod are one of the most highly productive species, but are also sensitive to increasing ocean temperatures which has been linked to declining cod populations. Cod are seasonal visitors of artificial reefs and utilize reef structure for shelter and foraging.

American eel are the only freshwater eel found in North America. In the United States they are present from Maine to Florida. Eels spend most of their life in freshwater and migrate to the ocean to spawn and die. They have a multitude of life stages including: leptocephali, glass eel, yellow eel, and silver eel.

weakfish illustration
Weakfish

Weakfish are schooling fish found from Nova Scotia to Florida. They can live up to 17 years, but their natural and fishing mortality has been increasing in recent years. The name weakfish comes from their fragile mouth, which easily rips when hooked by fishermen. Weakfish are part of the drum family and often make a drumming or croaking sound using special muscles and their swim bladder.

Oyster toadfish are found in Maine to Florida and can live up to 12 years. They reside in inshore waters on rocky bottoms near reefs, jetties, and wrecks. Oyster toadfish are hardy fish that need little food to live and are well adapted to live in polluted water and among litter. When spawning they make a foghorn sound to attract mates.

Monkfish can be found from St. Lawrence to North Carolina and live up to 30 years. They prefer deeper waters and migrate seasonally to feed and spawn. Monkfish feed by using their modified spine on the top of their head as a fishing pole to lure prey towards its mouth. Once the prey is close enough, the monkfish takes a gulp of water which sucks the prey into its mouth where it is swallowed whole.

atlantic menhaden illustration
Atlantic menhaden (Bunker)

Atlantic menhaden (Bunker) can be found schooling along the Atlantic coast of the United States. They can live for 10-12 years, but most never make it to that age. They are an important prey item for many types of wildlife, including, fish, sea birds, and marine mammals. Older and larger menhaden tend to migrate farther north than younger and smaller fish. They can live for 10-12 years, but most never make it to that age. Large schools of menhaden can be found near reefs, attracting a variety of predators to the area.

American shad are found from Newfoundland, Canada to Florida and can live up to 13 years. Like alewife, American shad also spend most of their life in the ocean, returning in the spring to freshwater to spawn. They are the largest member of the herring family. Shad roe (eggs) are considered a delicacy in certain areas. They are also an important prey item for many types of wildlife, including, fish, sea birds, and marine mammals. American shad populations have declined due to pollution, overfishing, and habitat degradation due to dams.

alewife illustration
Alewife

Alewife can be found from Labrador to South Carolina and they live up to 9 years. Alewife spend most of their life in the ocean, only returning to freshwater to spawn. They are an important prey item for many types of wildlife, including, fish, sea birds, and marine mammals. Some populations live entirely in freshwater or are landlocked in lakes where they have been introduced. Alewife populations have been in decline due to habitat degradation caused by dams and culverts.

Atlantic sturgeon have been around for 70 million years and can be found from Labrador to Florida. Sturgeon have a high age at maturity and can live up to 70 years. They spend their life mostly in the ocean, returning to rivers to spawn in the spring. Most juveniles remain in the rivers for 1-6 years before migrating out into the ocean. Atlantic sturgeon are an endangered species; possession of these fish are prohibited.


More about Marine Life:

  • Marine Invertebrates - Learn more about the different types of marine crabs, whelks and lobster found in New York's waters.
  • Sharks - Information on common species of sharks found in New York's marine waters.
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  • Division of Marine Resources
    Marine Protected Resources Unit
    205 North Belle Mead Road, East Setauket NY, 11733
    631-444-0430
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