The scup, or "porgy," known for its fine flavor and
its avaricious pursuit of baited hooks, occurs along the continental
shelf of eastern North America. It is most common from Cape Cod
to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and is encountered only occasionally
north of Cape Ann
The scup's laterally flattened body is about two times as long
as it is wide. The head, concave dorsally, has a small mouth and
high-set eyes. The scup has one long, continuous dorsal fin, which
possesses a series of one short and eleven long spines anteriorly.
The anal fin also contains one short spine followed by several
long ones. The tail is deeply concave and sharply pointed on the
corners. The pelvic fins are located directly below the pectoral
The scup's body is a dull silvery color flecked with light blue
and displaying 12 to 15 inconspicuous horizontal stripes. The
head is marked with dark patches, and the belly is white.
The Massachusetts angling record for scup is 5 pounds 14 ounces,
but few adults exceed 2 pounds in width and 14 inches in length.
Both males and females reach sexual maturity in their second year.
Scup can live up to 14 years of age, but most schools of scup
contain no fish older than 3 to 4 years.
Adult scup form into schools of similar-sized individuals
in areas with smooth or rocky bottoms. They are particularly plentiful
around piers, rocks, offshore ledges, jetties, and mussel beds.
They move inshore to southern coastal areas of Massachusetts in
May and linger there until October, when most swim to deeper waters
offshore or migrate southward to the waters between Cape May,
New Jersey, and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. While along coastal
Massachusetts, scup are commonly found at depths of 6 to 120 feet.
Young larvae live in very shallow estuarine waters. Juvenile and
adult scup move into harbors and along sandy beaches during high
tides, and then into deeper channels as the tides recede. Large
scup generally occur farther offshore than do smaller, younger
The abundance of scup in a specific area is frequently influenced
by water temperature. Scup prefer temperatures greater than 45
degrees F and are most frequently encountered in water temperatures
from 55 to 77 degrees F. In New England, water temperatures in
early fall occasionally plunge below the scup's tolerance level,
killing large numbers of fish.
In southern New England, scup spawn from May to August, with
the peak level of activity typically in June. The Buoyant eggs
hatch about 40 hours after fertilization. Within several days
after hatching, the larvae, having used all yolk reserves, begin
to feed upon copepods and other microscopic animals. Adult scup
feed upon bottom invertebrates including small crabs, annelid
worms, clams, mussels, jellyfish, and sand dollars. Each year
as many as 80% of all juvenile scup fall prey to larger predators
such as cod, bluefish, and weakfish.
Recreational fishing constitutes a significant proportion
of the total harvest of scup. From 1977 to 1985, an average of
24% (ranging from 17% to 33%) of the harvest of scup along the
East Coast was taken by anglers. The existing fishery management
plan, in effect since 1995, allocates 33% of the allowable harvest
to the recreational fishery.
Scup populations on the East Coast have displayed periodic cycles
of abundance over the last twenty years, with any change in population
density generally lasting for 2 to 4 years before being reversed.
Commercial and recreational catches peaked in the 1959s to 1960s,
declined markedly by the early 1970s, and recovered to relatively
high levels before 1980. Much of the increase in harvest in the
1970s is attributed to an increase in fixed gear and otter trawl
activity in the southern New England region. Subsequently, Massachusetts's
recreational landings peaked to a high of about 12 million fish
in 1986 but have since leveled off with restrictive management
to approximately 1.4 million fish annually (1988-2001).
Scup are currently being harvested at the maximum level their
populations can withstand. The Massachusetts Division of Marine
Fisheries established a minimum legal size limit for scup of 7
inches in 1987. Size limits since have been increased to 9 inches
and daily bag limits were implemented for the recreational fishery
starting in 2000 to protect this species from the long term effects
that an additional increase in harvest might engender.