"Marine Piranha"

You haven't heard the stories or seen the movie but the Bluefish is not to be underestimated

by Brendan Starp

This fish is what we sometimes think of subconsciously in the depths of our minds. Why did the Amazon evolve Piranhas, but yet the oceans being so diverse and huge, evolve something similar? The answer is it has. Bluefish are the oceanic equivalent of the freshwater Piranha.

They occur just off the coast of the southeastern United States, from Nova Scotia to Argentina, including Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. During the summer months they gather in huge schools for one purpose: to breed and to feed. By far the most interesting spectacle of these evolutionary masterpieces is their feeding habits. They gather in huge, somewhat disorganized schools and swim directly into other schools of fish. Those other fish usually include Menhaden, Shads, and other prey fish. Once the prey school is disturbed, the individual fish does not stand a chance. The Bluefish then applies its legendary attack method to any fish in its path which can be summed up in 3 words: slice and dice.

The skull and jaw bone of the Bluefish are incredibly dense and hard. Unlike the deltoid teeth of their freshwater counterparts, the Bluefish's teeth are conical, but very stubby and deeply rooted into the steel-hard jaw bone. The muscle mass that powers these weapons is disproportional and dense when compared to other snapper-like fish. Bluefish are such efficient predators that their prey often beach themselves onto shore in a wild attempt to escape. You can often spot a shoal of Bluefish by noticing an enormous sometimes miles wide slick of chopped fishes where many birds gather to scavenge. Divers have also noticed "schools" of fish heads and random body parts for miles which usually meant a school of Bluefish have just passed by. Supposedly Bluefish are so greedy that they will regurgitate their own body weight each day. Also, Bluefish have been caught with ruptured stomachs, a testament to their voraciousness.

If you ever capture a Bluefish, be extremely careful. Many a fishermans fingers and toes have been severed. There are unverified reports of attacks on man. Other than the Blue's obvious skeletal hardware, they look like inconspicuous, long, compressed little snappers. Even their coloration is nothing to get in a dither over. The flanks are greenish-grey-irredescent blue, which fades to a sparkling silver. The fins often have a little pale yellow in them, and the mouth, when seen from the side, is nearly at the same level as the eye, which makes them look particularly mean.

If you are considering a Bluefish as a pet, you must have access the southeastern coast of the United States. They are not sold on the retail market in the aquarium industry, therefore you have to collect them. During the summer, when Bluefish gather close to shore in order to feed, they are often fished commercially, and for sport. Many youngsters 4-12" which are commonly called "snappers" will be caught. If you can get your hands on one of these juveniles, then you will have yourself a "keepable" Blue. You will need a completely bare tank of about 300 gallons to keep one happy. Like Piranhas, they damage incredibly easily and are very delicate. Try to exert as little stress on them as possible. They are always active and never slow down.

Tank Setup

They can be kept in a school state, but all the fish have to be of equal size and well fed with plenty of extra swimming space. Bluefish prefer subdued light and a strong current. Tankmates are out of the question.


For food, live fish will be relished. Once the Bluefish calm down you can try various meat, particularly fish fillets, and carnivorous fish food.

Water Chemistry

Keep the water very well aerated and at a temperature of around 74 degrees F. Keep the pH at 8.2 and the salt density at 1.023.


Breeding is considered impossible simply because they can only spawn due to seasonal changes in their environments and again, only in shoal conditions.


Like all native fish, they should be released after the owner has learned all he/she wants to know about them, but only during the summer and in their natural range. Of all fish, the Blue is quite likely the most underrated. Considered the scourge of the inshore western Atlantic, most people have never heard of them, let alone realize their existence. This is quite common with natives, unfortunately. For the marine hobbyist looking for a bizarre marine version of the common Piranha, the Bluefish delivers.

Bluefish; Snapper; Marine Piranha

Sci Name:
Pomatomus saltatrix
SE US Coast
Max Size:
75-81 F.
Tank Size:
300 Gallons