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October 26, 2001

Saury, Not a Billfish

Although these pint-sized fish might look like a bill, they better suited as bait.

Q: While tuna fishing off Nova Scotia last summer, this fish came up on one of the bait rigs we were using to catch mackerel. The crew called it a "billfish," but it looked more like a ballyhoo with two delicate beaks. I've never seen anything like it here in the Southeast. Can you identify this fish? Is it edible? - John Sczeigal, Atlanta, Georgia

A: Sure. It's an Atlantic saury (Scomberesox saurus), easily distinguished from ballyhoo and other halfbeaks by its two beaks - and separated from the needlefishes by two rows of small dorsal and ventral finlets just in front of the tail fin. The saury family, Scomberesocidae, encompasses four species worldwide, but only one lives in the western Atlantic. The Atlantic saury grows to about 20 inches long and ranges from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Bermuda and North Carolina. As offshore, schooling and migratory species, sauries are important forage fish for larger predators such as tunas and billfishes. They're not bad to eat either and are caught commercially in some areas to be sold canned.