Tautog, Tautoga onitis
Image Credit: NOAA/Wikipedia
The tautog is found amongst rocks, bridge pillars, mussel beds, and other objects resting on the ocean floor close to the shore line of the western Atlantic from Nova Scotia to South Carolina. It is most abundantly found around Cape Cod, and in Delaware Bay.
The name tautog comes from the Narragansett language, but it is also called a black porgy, or chub; in North Carolina it is called an oyster fish; in New York, New Jersey, and New England it is named a blackfish.
The plump, elongated body is brown and dark olive with white splotches. It has a rubbery texture and is covered with a thick slime that protects the fish when swimming amongst the rocks. The average weight is 1 – 3 lbs, but can reach 25 lbs and live up to 3o years.
The back of the throat of this species contains a set of teeth used for crushing its prey. During the day the tautog will feed on mollusks and crustaceans, while at night it will rest hidden in crevices found within the rocks and debris on the ocean floor.
The tautog will spawn off shore in late spring or early summer. The egg will develop as it floats in the open water. After hatching the young, green in color, will swim to shallower water hiding in the seaweed, where it is camouflaged and protected from predators.
Due to the popularity of this fish as a food dish, the slow reproduction and growth rate, the tautog’s population is shrinking, so it is considered vulnerable on the endangered list. Conservation measures have been put in place for this species, such as a size limit, possession limit, and limited fishing season. Spear fishermen find it easy to spear this species because it will stay relatively calm in the presence of divers.