Scup have been harvested along the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras, since colonial times. They are recognizable for their deep, thin bodies, and grow slowly, reaching an average length of 12 to 14 inches (30 to 35 cm) and 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kg).
Scup have dusky brown backs and silvery white bellies with an iridescent hue. Their sides and back may also be flecked or streaked with light blue. They are deep-bodied, about one-half as deep as they are long, and have front teeth that are very narrow, almost conical, and two rows of molars in their upper jaw. They have a distinct spiny dorsal fin. Scup are a mild tasting fish and are often served whole, given their small size.
Scup can live a relatively long time, up to about 20 years, and are able to reproduce when they reach two years of age, when they’re about 8 inches (20 cm) long. Individual scup spawn once a year, with females releasing an average of 7,000 eggs, which are fertilized externally. Their eggs and larvae are found in the water column in coastal waters during warmer months. As larvae mature, they settle to the seafloor and develop into juveniles. Scup migrate north and inshore to spawn in the spring, then migrate south and offshore in autumn as the water cools, arriving by December in offshore areas where they spend the winter. Scup are browsers, feeding on invertebrates that live on the seafloor.
This fishery uses a large cone-shaped net that is dragged along the seafloor to catch fish. As the net is towed at low speed, hydrodynamic forces push two "otter boards" outwards opening the mouth of the net and capturing fish in its path.