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 all summer.
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 Atlantic.
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 of land.
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.
Few fish are more delicately flavored or more finely fleshed than the haddock. Traditionally, haddock fillets are marketed with their distinctively colored skin intact as a sign to consumers that the high price they are paying is indeed purchasing this highly valued fish.
Haddock are caught from spring to fall, with fishing activity generally greatest in August and September. Anglers pursue this deep-water species from private, charter or party boats.
A medium-action 8-foot boat rod with a fast-tapering tip is preferred by many anglers. A sensitive rod is necessary to feel the light bumps the haddock creates when it grabs a baited hook. Forty-pound test monofilament line on a high-speed conventional reel is usually recommended. Heavy line is necessary even though the haddock is a modest-sized species because anglers fishing in deep waters cannot predict what other larger fish might grab the bait. Old-timers often favor braided line, feeling that it does not have as much stretch as monofilament and more easily hooks a fish in deeper waters.
A typical haddock rig consists of the following: A swivel (to prevent twisting) is tied to one end of a 4-foot piece of 50-pound test leader. A bank sinker is looped to the other end of the leader. Number 6/0 or smaller hooks, with a short piece of yellow surge wound over their shanks, are attached to the leader by two 6 to 10 inch long "droppers," or loops. Ten to 20 ounces of sinker are needed to hold the rig on the bottom, depending upon currents and depths. Fresh clams or squid are very successful as baits.
After the baited rig is lowered to the bottom, all slack should be retrieved. Unlike the cod, which gives a sharp yank, haddock bite in a series of light bumps. These slight taps can be felt if the line is held between the thumb and finger. Because haddock have soft mouths, they are easily lost if not properly played after being hooked. When a haddock taps the bait, the hook should be set with a steady pull rather than a jerk, and the fish should be steadily retrieved without pumping the rod.
The meat of haddock is lean and white; it is less firm than cod and flakes beautifully when cooked. Haddock is excellent baked, broiled, poached, microwaved, or used in chowders and stews. Traditionally, New Englanders fry haddock fillets or bake them whole with a breadcrumb and spice stuffing. For a change of pace, try following simple New England style poaching. Rub the inside of a dressed haddock with salt, wrap it in cheesecloth, and cook it in boiling water or bouillon for 23 to 30 minutes, or until it flakes. Remove it to a platter, garnish, surround with alternating boiled potatoes and cooked beets, and serve with mushroom soup as a sauce.
There are no commercial fishery reporting requirements to the Division of Marine Fisheries for cod & haddock, except through specific gear related catch reports such as those required to be completed by fishermen fishing gillnets. Federal permit holders may have to comply with federal reporting requirements.
Seafood dealers who wish to purchase haddock directly from fishermen must hold a valid Massachusetts seafood dealer permit as well as submit a primary buyer and quota managed species application to the Division of Marine Fisheries. Buying haddock directly from fishermen without prior authorization is strictly prohibited. Once a dealer becomes a primary buyer, there are reporting requirements that must be met.