NJ Saltwater Fish ID

NJ Saltwater Fish Identification

NJ Saltwater Fish ID Guide – When fishing in New Jersey waters, sometimes both new and experienced anglers need to make a NJ Saltwater Fish ID to ensure compliance with New Jersey Marine Fishing Regulations. FishinJersey.com’s editors have developed this NJ Saltwater Fish Identification Guide to assist anglers in identifying NJ fish species. No NJ Saltwater Fish Identification Guide contains every saltwater fish and there may be some species that we have overlooked. We will try to update new species as they become available.

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NJ Saltwater Fish

American Shad Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image American Shad
American Shad possess a large and distinctive shoulder spot that may be followed by several faint spots. They also have sharp saw-like scales or “scutes” along the belly. The lower jaw does not extend further than the upper jaw.
Amberjack Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Amberjack
Amberjacks have a dark stripe on the head, which runs from the nose, through the eye, to the front of the first dorsal fin. Their backs are blue or olive-colored, the sides and belly are silver-white. Occasionally there is an amber or pinkish color to the body. Juveniles have five or six vertical bars along the sides. They have a long anal fin base.
Atlantic Bonito Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Atlantic Bonito
Atlantic bonito have their dorsal fins very near, or separated by a narrow interspace. The body is completely scaled with those scales in the pectoral fin area and the lateral line usually larger in size. Bonitos differ from tuna by their compressed bodies, their lack of teeth on the roof of the mouth, and certain differences in coloration. The Atlantic bonito can be distinguished by its dark oblique stripes on the back and with a maxillary only about half as long as the head.
Atlantic Cod Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Atlantic Cod
The most distinguishing physical characteristics of cod are the three rounded dorsal fins and two equally rounded anal fins. The head is large with a blunt snout, large mouth, and chin barbel. The body is marked by a distinct lateral line that is pale in color and arched over the pectoral fin. Coloration varies with the surroundings, but is often dark brownish- black dorsally, with yellowish to bronze marbling on the sides. The back and sides are also marked with many brownish-reddish spots and the belly is invariably white.
Atlantic Croaker Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Atlantic Croaker
Atlantic croaker is a silvery fish with a faint pinkish bronze cast. Its back and upper sides are grayish with brassy or brown spots that form oblique wavy lines on the fish’s sides. Its body is moderately flat and elongated. The dorsal fins are continuous with a deep notch between the spiny and soft portions. It has a long head with a conical snout projecting beyond its downwardpositioned mouth. It has a slightly pointed tail and small barbels on the lower jaw. A member of the drum family, Atlantic croaker derives its name from the croaking sound it produces by vibrating its swim bladder.
Atlantic Mackerel Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Atlantic Mackerel
The mackerel is easily identified. It has a wide, deeply forked tail, striking black bands on both sides of the body, and finlets running on both the dorsal and ventral sides from the rear edge of the dorsal and anal fins to the tail. Most Atlantic mackerel are 12 to 18 inches in length and weigh less than 3 pounds.
Atlantic Sturgeon Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Atlantic Sturgeon
Sturgeon can be characterized by having an arched back with one row of bony plates or scutes. Their head is down sloped and their eyes are small. The bottom of their snout has four barbels or whiskers and the mouth is located on the underside of their head. Atlantic Sturgeon are brownish olive in color on top, grading to pinkish tan on their sides, to white on bottom. Since they are mostly cartilaginous, there are no scales.
Bay Scallop Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Bay Scallop
The bay scallop’s shell is lightweight and thin, but strong. It can be identified by the 13 to 22 symmetrically radial ribs originating from central point (umbo) of its shell. However, the color of its sheel can be highly variable: Top (left) valve – drab; dark grey, black, or brown; occasionally with yellow, orange, or red highlights; ribs sometimes mottled or concentrically banded. Bottom (right) valve – usually lighter in color than top valve, sometimes pale yellow or white. Size: Adult scallops can grow as large as 90 mm (3 ½ in).
Black Drum Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Black Drum
Black drum have short, deep bodies (less than three times as long as deep) with high-arched backs and flattish bellies. They have conspicuous chin barbells and make a loud grunting noise when excited.
Adults have dusky to black fins and are silver with a brassy luster when alive, but change to a dark gray after death. Young drum possess four to six black vertical bars.
Black Sea Bass Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Black Sea Bass
Larger black sea bass are black, while the smaller ones are more of a dusky brown. The exposed parts of scales are paler than the margins, making the fish look like it is barred with a series of dots running lengthwise. The belly is slightly lighter in color than the sides. The fins are dark, and the dorsal is marked with a series of white spots and bands. The upper portion of the caudal fin ends as a filament. During spawning, males may have a conspicuous blue hump at the nape of the neck. /td>
Blue Claw Crab Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Blue Claw Crab
Despite the name, the blue crab varies in color. The back shell is dark green or brownish green. The undersides of the body and legs are off white with hints of yellow and pink. Blue crabs have a brilliant blue color on their front claws (the tips are red on females) with an olive or bluish-green carapace.
They have a pair of paddle shaped legs that are excellent for swimming. Blue Claw Crabs can also be identified by the nine marginal “teeth” or spikes on their shell, behind each eye, with the last pair ending in a sharp spine by which the crab’s size is measured.
Bluefish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Bluefish
Bluefish are greenish-blue along the back fading to silver on the sides and the belly. They have stout bodies with large mouths and prominent, sharp teeth. The lower jaw juts out noticeably. The dorsal fin is divided into two sections with the first section about half as long and high as the second section. The second dorsal fin is nearly the same size as the anal fin.
Blue Marlin Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Blue Marlin
The body of the Blue Marlin is cobalt blue on top shading to a silvery white on the belly. The upper jaw is elongated in the form of a spear. There are approximately 15 blue vertical bars on the sides. The dorsal and anal fins are pointed, as opposed to the white marlin, which has rounded dorsal and anal fins.
Dolphin Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Dolphin
The dolphin has bright turquoise, green and yellow patterns, which fade almost immediately upon death. Its body tapers sharply from head to tail and has irregular blue or golden blotches scattered over the sides. Dolphins have a single dark dorsal fin extending from just behind the head to the tail.
Eastern Oyster Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Eastern Oyster
Eastern Oysters have two shells, hence the oyster is a bivalve and is related to other bivalves, such a clams and mussels. The soft body of the oyster is inside the shells, which help protect the oyster from predators and harsh environments. The shells fit tightly together forming a water tight seal when fully closed. The shells are generally greyish/brown in color and rough, except for the inside which is smooth and white.
Haddock Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Haddock
These fish are dark gray above with silvery sides and a white underbody. They have a black lateral line and show no spots. A distinctive large black blotch, referred to as “the devil’s thumbprint,” is located behind and above their pectoral fins. Haddock, like cod, have three dorsal fins and two anal fins. With haddock, the first dorsal fin is visibly pointed. A small chin barbel can be found on their lower jaw and they have a shallowly forked tail fin. At three years of age, haddock typically measure 19 to 20 inches in length.
Hard Clam Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Hard Clam
The hard clam hell is heavy, thick and strong. Outside the color is grayish, sometimes tinged with brown or tan. Their shell sculpture displays numerous concentric growth lines with a smooth area near the middle of the shell. The interior of the shell is white, usually with a splotch of purple stain. Interior margin of shell has crenulations (fine teeth). Adults can grow as large as 125 mm (5 in). Various size groups have distinct common names: Button: <1 7/8 inches; Littleneck: 1 7/8 – 2 1/8 inches; Topneck: 2 1/8 – 2 3/8 inches; Cherrystone: 2 3/8 – 3 1/8 inches and Chowder: >3 1/8 inches.
Horseshoe Crab Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Horseshoe Crab
These animals get their name from their general horseshoe shape. They have a hard exoskeleton like a crab. They are brown with a slender pointed tail. A horseshoe crab’s tail, while menacing, is not a weapon. Instead, the tail is used to plow the crab through the sand and muck, to act as a rudder, and to right the crab when it accidentally tips over. Unique looking, with nothing else that looks much like them in existence today.
Menhaden / Mossbunker Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Menhaden / Mossbunker
Menhaden are silvery in color with a distinct black shoulder spot behind their gill opening. They have a variable number of smaller spots on their sides. Like shad and herring, they possess a series of scutes along their belly. Their bodies are moderately compressed. Their caudal fin is deeply forked. Menhaden fins lack spines.
Monkfish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Monkfish
The Monkfish is easily recognized by its large spiny head and wide mouth filled with fang-like teeth. They have very broad, depressed heads (The head is as wide as the fish is long). They have enormous mouths with long, sharp teeth. Monkfish have a modified spine called an “esca.” This spine is quite mobile and can be angled forward so it can dangle in front of the fish’s mouth and be wiggled like bait to lure its prey.
Northern Kingfish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Northern Kingfish
Northern kingfish are part of the drum family. Since they lack an air bladder, Northern kingfish do not make typical “drumming” sounds like other members of the drum family, but they can vocalize somewhat by grinding their pharyngeal (throat) teeth. Notable characteristics are the long spine on the first dorsal fin and a barbel on the chin. Dark, irregular bars are present along the body of the fish. The first two bars form two distinct V-shapes. The bold markings and a dark longitudinal stripe behind the pectoral fins distinguish it from the two other species of kingfish. The markings on Southern kingfish and Gulf kingfish are not nearly as prominent and do not form the V-shaped pattern.
Northern Puffer / Blowfish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Northern Puffer / Blowfish
Small to medium-sized fish with a blunt body capable of inflating with water and air. Puffers have grayish-brown backs and upper sides, but are yellowish-white on the lower sides and belly. Tiny black spots are scattered over most of the body, particularly the cheeks, and there is a row of seven to 10
vertical bars along the sides. The head and body are covered with prickles that give the skin a sandpaper quality.
Northern Sea Robin Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Northern Sea Robin
The northern sea robin is distinguishable by a large, spiny head and tapering body. It can be easily identified by its rounded, fanlike pectoral fins that are so large they overlap the anal and second dorsal fins when laid back. The three lower rays of the northern sea robin’s pectoral fins are long, broad feelers used to walk along the bottom, stirring up bottom sediments to find food. The head of the northern sea robin is encased in bony plates, which it uses as a shovel to dig up invertebrates from the mud. The front part of its upper jaw is concave, and there is a small spine in its nostrils. The northern sea robin’s eyes are a distinctive peacock blue. The features of its head distinguish this species from a similar-looking fish, the sculpin. These fish often produce an audible “croak” when held out of the water.
Oyster Toadfish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Oyster Toadfish
Oyster toadfish are often described as ugly. They have broad, flat heads with bulging eyes and fleshy protrusions. The skin is slimy and scaleless. It is brownish yellow with mottled brown vertical bars. Oyster toadfish make a grunting sound when alerted to food.
Pollock Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Pollock
Pollock are olive green or black to brown above with paler sides and a silver belly. Their fairly straight lateral line is light colored. Pollock are deep, plump bodied fish that have three dorsal fins, two anal fins and a forked tail fin. They have a slightly projected lower jaw. Their chin barbel is considered minute and may be completely missing in older fish. Pollock average between 4 and 15 pounds in weight, although large ones can weigh to 35 pounds.
Red Drum Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Red Drum
Red drum are iridescent silvery-gray overall with a coppery cast that appears darker on the back and upper sides. They have an inferior mouth, no barbels on the chin and one or more black ocellated spots on the upper side near the base of the tail.
Red Hake Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Red Hake / Ling
Also called “ling” or “ling cod”, the red hake is similar to the silver hake. The red hake has a short first dorsal fin with a distinctive elongated filament and a long second dorsal fin. The red hake also has a single chin barbel. The caudal fin is rounded. Coloration is brownish to grayish brown, with some hints of red along the back and upper sides which fade to a yellowish, off-white belly. Red hake average under 2 pounds, but can be caught up to 9 pounds.
Sailfish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Sailfish
Sailfish are dark-blue along the upper half of the body fading to brownish-blue on the sides to silver-white on the belly. The upper jaw is elongated, looking like a spear. The first dorsal fin is high and sail-like, blue-black and covered with small black spots. All related billfishes have a high dorsal fin as juveniles, but only the sailfish retains the high fin throughout life. On the sides are 15 to 20 vertical bars consisting of several small blue spots.
Sand Tiger Shark Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Sand Tiger Shark
The sand tiger shark has a stout body with two large dorsal fins that are almost equal in size and the first dorsal fin placed far back on the trunk of the body. The tail has an elongated upper lobe and no caudal keel. This shark appears bronze from above but is increasingly paler below. Juveniles have reddish or yellow-brown spots on the tail and rear end of the body that fade with age. The gill slits are anterior to the origin of the pectoral fins.
Sandbar Shark Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Sandbar Shark
The Sandbar Shark’s snout is broadly rounded and short unlike other sharks. Its first dorsal fin is triangular and very high. They exhibit a poorly developed dermal ridge between their dorsal fins. This shark is brown or gray in color with a white underside. The upper and lower teeth are finely serrated. They are considered harmless to humans.
Scup / Porgy Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Scup / Porgy
Porgies have a variety of sub-species. Porgy (or Scup) are typically high-backed, snapper- or grunt-like fishes with deep, oblong bodies. They have a single dorsal fin, and and their small mouths, equipped with strong strong jaws and teeth, can handle a diet of fishes and hard-shelled invertebrates. The species average about 16 inches long, and their average weight is about two pounds. However, many sub-species of Porgy or Scup can be much smaller on average. Color varies greatly between species as well.
Sheepshead Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Sheepshead
Sheepshead are greenish-gray with a laterally compressed body marked by five or six vertical dark bars on the sides. They have prominent teeth with incisors, molars and rounded grinders that enable them to crush shellfish and sea urchins. They have strong, sharp spines on the dorsal and anal fins.
Silver Hake Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Silver Hake / Whiting
Also called “whiting”, silver hake are iridescent gray brown above, fading to a silvery shade below. Their large mouth, with a projecting lower jaw, is lined with two or more rows of sharp curved teeth. Silver hake have no chin barbel. Being slender fish, they are five to six times as long as they are deep. They have two separate and well developed dorsal fins, the second being much longer than the first. They also have an extended anal fin, and their ventral fins lack the long feelers that are so obvious on other hakes. Adult silver hake normally measure around 14 inches in length.
Smooth Dogfish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Smooth Dogfish
Smooth dogfish have a slender body with two dorsal fins nearly equal in size. The second dorsal fin sits slightly ahead of the anal fin. They have cat-like eyes and are a tan-gray, slate-gray or brown on top with a white, grayish-white or yellowish belly.
Spanish Mackerel Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Spanish Mackerel
Spanish mackerel have greenish backs with silvery sides and belly. Golden yellow spots above and below the lateral line cover the sides of the body. The front of the first dorsal fin is black. The lateral line curves gently to the base of the tail and the body is covered with tiny scales.
Spiny Dogfish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Spiny Dogfish
Spiny dogfish are slender with a depressed head and a pointed snout. Their dorsal side is gray to brown and their ventral side is pale gray to white. Their eyes display an iridescent blue-green coloration in the pupils. They have white spots on their body, with a single spine in front of each of their two dorsal fins. The second dorsal fin is smaller than the first but has a larger spine and spiny dogfish do not have an anal fin.
Spot Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Spot
The body of the Spot is short and grayish-silver with golden reflections along the upper sides. Between 12 and 15 wavy dark lines run from the dorsal fins to below the lateral line. A prominent black spot, about the same size as the eye, is located behind the gill cover. In the fall, spot have bright yellow stomachs, a trait likely associated with spawning.
Striped Bass Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Striped Bass
Striped bass have a large mouth with a long body and head and slightly forked tail. Their color on top varies from a dark olive-green, to steel blue or gray black. Their sides are silver with seven or eight black, horizontal stripes, one of which follows the lateral line. They have one soft and one spiny dorsal fin, separated at the base. /td>
Summer Flounder / Fluke Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Summer Flounder / Fluke
A flat, disc-shaped fish that is white on the right side and brown, gray or olive on the left side. The colored side has three distinct ocellated dark brown spots near the tail that form a triangle pointing to the head. There are usually other spots on the side nearer to the head.
Tautog / Blackfish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Tautog / Blackfish
The tautog is a stout fish with a blunt nose and thick lips. Large conical teeth at the front of the mouth recede to flat crushing teeth used for eating hard-shelled prey. Coloration is dark green to black dorsally, mottling to a lighter background color on the sides. Adults average 1 to 1.5 pounds.
Triggerfish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Triggerfish
Triggerfish have large incisor-like teeth and deep laterally compressed bodies covered with tough, sandpaper-like skin. The action of the dorsal spines give the triggerfish its name. The first spine is large, and when erect it remains so until the smaller second spine is deflexed, triggering the first. Gray triggerfish are generally gray with green overtones, with about three faint, broad dark blotches on the upper body and often white dots and lines on the lower body and fins. There are bluish, purplish spots and lines on the upper body and dorsal fin. There is a pale, narrow band on the chin and the upper rim of the eye is blue.
Weakfish Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Weakfish
Weakfish are dark olive-green on top and silvery below, burnished on the back and sides with purple, lavender, green, blue, golden or copper. The sides are flecked with dark blotches that form wavy lines running down and forward, but not into the fins. The fins are yellow, and there are two large canine-like teeth in the upper jaw. The spot pattern distinguishes weakfish from the spotted seatrout because the spots do not appear on the tail or second dorsal fins.
White Marlin Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image White Marlin
The body is dark blue to chocolate brown along the upper half shading to a silvery-white belly. The upper jaw is elongated in the shape of a spear. The first dorsal fin is blue-black and covered with small black spots. The other fins are brown-black. Unlike the blue marlin, the white marlin usually has no spots or bars on the sides. The dorsal and anal fins are rounded and there is a visible lateral line.
White Perch Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image White Perch
White perch are silvery chunky-bodied fish, about 2 ½ or three times as long as they are deep, not counting the tail. The back is olive-brown to blackish-green with the color shading to a paler silvery- green on the sides and silver-white on the belly. The fins are dusky. A tiny notch separates their two dorsal fins. Young fish, with dark lateral stripes, may resemble striped bass. The stripes on an adult white perch are very faint or non-existent.
Winter Flounder Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Winter Flounder
The Winter Flounder is a rightsided flounder, which means the dark-colored side where the eyes are located occurs on the right side of the fish. It is distinguished from other right-sided flounder by its very small mouth, relatively flat lateral line and the presence of scales between the eyes. The color is highly variable and can change to mimic the bottom habitat. However, they are mostly a spotted and mottled brown.
Yellowfin Tuna Thumbnail Image - Click for larger image Yellowfin Tuna
Yellowfin tuna are torpedo-shaped fish that are a metallic dark blue on the back and upper sides with a yellow belly that changes to silver. The dorsal and anal fins, and finlets are bright yellow. It has elongated anal and dorsal fins.