This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
This fish, which on the coast of New England and the Middle States is called the Blue-fish, is also known in Rhode Island as the "Horse Mackerel;" south of Cape Hatteras as the "Skipjack;" in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland it is sometimes known as the "Green-fish." Young Blue-fish are in some parts of New England called "Snapping Mackerel," or "Snappers;" about New Bedford "Blue Snappers;" to distinguish them from the Sea Bass, they are sometimes spoken of as the "Blue-fish." About New York they are called "Skip Mackerel," and higher up the Hudson River "White-fish." In the Gulf of Mexico the name "Blue-fish" is in general use.
Pomatomus Saltatrix is widely distributed in the Malay Archipelago, Australia, at the Cape of Good Hope, at Natal and about Madagascar; in the Mediterranean, where it is a well-known and highly-prized food-fish in the markets of Algiers, though rare on the Italian side. It has been seen at Malta, at Alexandria, along the coast of Syria, and about the Canaries. It has never been seen on the Atlantic coast of Europe, and, strangely enough, never in the waters of the Bermudas or any of the Western Islands. On our coast it ranges from Central Brazil and the Guianas through the Gulf of Mexico and north to Nova Scotia, though never seen in the Bay of Fundy.
From Cape Florida to Penobscot Bay, Blue-fish are abundant at all seasons when the temperature of the water is propitious. It is not yet known what limits of temperature are the most favorable to their welfare, but it would appear, from the studies of the dates of their appearance during a period of years in connection with the ocean temperature, that they prefer to avoid water that is much colder than forty. It is possible that the presence of their favorite food, the Menhaden, has as much influence upon their movements as water temperature. Certain it is, that few Blue-fish are found on our Middle and Southern coast when the Menhaden are absent; on the other hand, the Blue-fish do not venture in great numbers into the Gulf of Maine at the time when Menhaden are schooling and are at their greatest abundance. Their favorite summer haunts are in the partially protected waters of the Middle States from May to October, with an average temperature of sixty degrees to seventy-five degrees. The Menhaden, or certain schools of them, affect a cooler climate and thrive in the waters of Western and Central Maine in the months when the harbor temperatures are little above fifty and fifty-five, and that of the ocean considerably lower.
Since Prof. Baird wrote in 1871, there has been no great change in the abundance of the Blue-fish. They are quite sufficient in number to supply the demand for them and to make great inroads upon the other fishes, some of which, like the Menhaden or Mackerel, would perhaps, if undisturbed by the Blue-fish, be more valuable than they are at present. They have now been with us for fifty years. Their numbers are subject to periodical variations, of the causes of which we are ignorant. It is to be regretted that there are no records of it in the South Atlantic States. If such existed we might, perhaps, learn from them that the Blue-fish remained in those waters while absent from the northern coasts. Only one statement is to be found which covers this period, although Lawson, in his "History of North Carolina," published in 1709, and Catesby, in his "Natural History of the Carolinas," published in 1743, refer to its presence. In "Bertram's Travels," published in 1791, the "Skipjack" is mentioned as one of the most abundant fish at the mouth of the St. John's River. When Blue-fish again became abundant, their presence was first noticed at the South, and they seem to have made their inroads from that direction. The Bluefish was unknown to Schoepf, if we may judge from his work on the "Fishes of New York," published in 1787. Dr. Mitchell recorded their frequent capture about New York in 1814, though before 1810 they are said to have been unknown there. In 1825 they were very abundant, and in 1841 immense numbers were captured in the Vineyard Sound, while about Nantucket they were on the increase from 1820 to 1830. It is certain that they had not reappeared in 1822 in Narragansett Bay, for in "Dwight's Travels," it is stated that, though formerly abundant, they had not been seen in that region since the time of the Revolution. The first one which was noticed north of Cape Cod was captured in October 1837, though we have no record of their reappearance about Cape Ann before 1847.
The Blue-fish is a carnivorous animal of the most pronounced type, feeding solely upon other fish. Prof. Baird remarks:
"There is no parallel in point of destructiveness to the Blue-fish among the marine species on our coast, whatever may be the case among some of the carnivorous fish of the South American waters. The Blue-fish has been well likened to an animated chopping machine, the business of which is to cut to pieces and otherwise destroy as many fish as possible in a given space of time. All writers are unanimous in regard to the destructiveness of the Blue-fish. Going in large schools, in pursuit of fish not much inferior to themselves in size, they move along like a pack of hungry wolves destroying everything before them. Their trail is marked by fragments of fish and by the stain of blood in the sea, as, where the fish is too large to be swallowed entire, the hinder portion will be bitten off and the anterior part allowed to float away or sink. It is even maintained, with great earnestness, that such is the gluttony of the fish, that when the stomach becomes full, the contents are disgorged and then again filled. It is certain that it kills many more fish than it requires for its own support.
"The youngest fish, equally with the older, perform this function of destruction, and although they occasionally devour crabs, worms, etc., the bulk of their sustenance throughout the greater part of the year is derived from other fish. Nothing is more common than to find a small Blue-fish of six or eight inches in length under a school of minnows making continual dashes and captures among them. The stomachs of the Blue-fish of all sizes, with rare exceptions, are found loaded with the other fish, sometimes to the number of thirty or forty, either entire or in fragments.