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Cover Photo by Corey A. Leamy
Also known as: Porgy
Scup are a silvery-grey fish with light blue flecks and are generally darker on top and lighter on the bottom. Mature adults range from 16-40 cm (6-16 in) and are laterally (vertically) compressed with an elliptical body shape. Scup have a long dorsal fin with sharp elongated spines and an evenly forked caudal fin with pointed corners. The pectoral fins are long and pointed. Scup have small mouths with narrow conical teeth used to crack through the shells of barnacles and mollusks. Larval scup are about 2 mm long at hatching and develop the characteristic barred pattern of juveniles by the time they reach 19 mm.
Scup are found at water depths from 2-180m (6.5-590ft) and have a geographical range from North Carolina to Massachusetts. Scup have been seen in the Gulf of Maine, however this is infrequent due to their sensitivity to water temperatures below 7°C (45°F). Scup are a migratory schooling fish that summer in coastal New England and winter offshore between New Jersey and North Carolina. They prefer smooth sand and rocky bottoms, but are also found in open water. You won’t see Scup while diving in New England, as their aversion to cold water shows them migrate to deeper, offshore waters. Scup are known to die if caught in shallow waters during a cold snap.
It is said the name “Porgy” comes from an American Indian word meaning “fertilizer” – which hints at their abundance in the area during colonial times. Narragasett Indians were said to call them “mishscuppaug” from which Scup would easily be derived. However, research didn’t reveal if mishscuppaug means fertilizer. Commercially and recreationally fished, they readily bite on hooks donning clams, crabs, and sea worms. Scup are bottom feeders that feed on polychaetes, crustaceans, mollusks, squids, and fishes.