The haddock, a member of the cod family renowned as splendid table
fare, inhabits both the American and European coasts of the Atlantic
Ocean. In the northwest Atlantic, it ranges from the southern
end of the Grand Banks to Cape Cod in the summer, and it extends
its range southward to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in the winter.
Haddock, like the closely related cod, pollock, and tomcod, are
easily distinguished from other coastal Massachusetts fish by
their three dorsal and two anal fins. The front dorsal fin is
triangular in shape and taller than the following two. The posterior
two are squarish, the middle dorsal being slightly larger than
the last. Of the two anal fins, the second or posterior one is
a mirror image of the third dorsal fin. Haddock can be distinguished
from the other closely related members of the cod family by a
black lateral line, which is a series of sensory pores that detect
local disturbances in the water, and a large spot on each side
of the body over the pectoral fins.
The top of the head, the back, and the upper sides are a dark
purplish-gray. The lower sides are shiny gray tinged with pink,
and the belly and lower head are white. The haddock has dark dorsal
fins, pectoral fins, and tail; the anal fins are pale and spotted
with black at the base.
The largest recorded haddock, which was landed by a commercial
vessel, weighed 37 pounds and measured 44 inches in length. The
Massachusetts angling record for haddock is 20 pounds, set by
one fish caught on Stellwagen Bank in 1972 and one at Boston Lightship
in 1974. One-year-old fish may reach 6 inches, two-year-olds 12
inches, and three-year-olds about 17 inches in length. Few haddock
exceed 20 to 24 inches in length, 3 to 5 pounds in weight, and
9 to 10 years of age.
Both male and females are sexually mature by the time they are
2 or 3 years old. The fecundity (number of eggs produced in a
year) of females is related to their body size. Females weighing
2.2 pounds produce about 170,000 eggs, while the largest females
may release as many as 3,000,000 eggs in one spawning season.
Haddock inhabit deep, cool waters, rarely entering estuaries
or river mouths. They are primarily found at depths of 140 to
450 feet and generally avoid depths of less than 30 feet. Haddock
prefer substrates of gravel, smooth rock, or sand littered with
shells and water temperatures of 35 to 50 degrees F. They migrate
seasonally to areas that provide optimal habitat conditions. In
winter, haddock move to deep water where the temperature is warmer
and more constant than that in shallower areas. Most overwinter
offshore from southern New Jersey to Cape Hatteras. By early spring
they seek more northerly areas in New England, moving into shallower
waters of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, where they remain
The haddock off Massachusetts reproduce on sandy, rocky, or muddy
bottoms from January to June, showing the greatest activity in
March and April. Spawning occurs offshore at depths of 100 to
600 feet and in temperatures of 35 to 45 degrees F. Georges Bank
is the most productive spawning area for haddock in the northwest
The buoyant eggs drift in the water, hatching in approximately
15 days. Young haddock will float near the surface for up to 3
months after hatching, drifting with the prevailing currents.
Subsequently they will move to the ocean floor, which they inhabit
for the rest of their lives.
Haddock suffer extremely high death rates during early life stages.
Many die from starvation or predation by species such as cod and
pollock. However, the number of larvae that survive in a given
year is often chiefly determined by their location when they are
ready to become bottom dwellers. If the currents in which they
have been suspended have carried them far offshore from the continental
shelf, few larvae will survive. Thus, the number of fishes surviving
early life stages is highly variable and unpredictable from year
to year. Haddock populations characteristically suffer through
extended series of years when few fish survive early life stages.
Recreational and commercial harvest have a great effect upon this
species since individuals removed from the populations by fishing
are not necessarily replaced by reproduction.
Before descending to the ocean floor, larval haddock feed upon
microscopic copepods. Bottom-dwelling juveniles and adults feed
upon almost any slow-moving invertebrate including small crabs,
sea worms, clams, starfish, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and occasionally
squid. Herring, sand lance, small eels, or other young fish only
rarely occur in their diet.
Historically, the haddock was abundant throughout the open
waters of the Gulf of Maine and on all offshore banks, especially
Georges Bank. The Georges Bank-South Channel area was one of the
most productive haddock grounds in the world. This species also
occurred in many areas of the coastal belt within 15 to 20 miles
In the 20th century, however, the haddock has displayed wide
fluctuations in abundance. The commercial fishing industry, boosted
by new markets for fresh fish and frozen fillets, harvested over
220,000,000 pounds of haddock in 1929. Annual harvests from 1930
to 1947 dropped to 25% to 67% of that in 1929. Concern over this
reduction in harvest was a major impetus in establishing the International
Commission of Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF), a multi-national
attempt at managing fisheries resources. In the mid-1950's, foreign
countries established distant-water fishing fleets in northwest
Atlantic, a development that further depleted the fragile haddock
populations. From 1977 to 1982, haddock within the US 200-mile
fishery management zone were managed under a plan developed by
the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC). This plan
consisted of catch quotas, seasonal spawning area closures, and
mesh size regulations. Commercial harvests are currently regulated
under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan of the
NEFMC. Minimum legal size limits for fish harvested both commercially
and recreationally, and an increase in the time covered by the
spawning area closure, have been added to the original regulations
in the new plan.
In spite of these management efforts, haddock populations in
the Gulf of Maine declined by 82% from 1977 to 1985, with Georges
Bank showing a similar trend. Haddock populations in both regions
are currently composed of fish from only seven year classes (all
fish born in a given year), with most recent year's reproductive
efforts adding a few new fish to the depleted resource.
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