This Memorial Day, there will be many celebrations honoring military veterans. Many flags will be flying over ceremonies and parades in towns throughout Maine as well as the rest of the country. Often, as I’m looking at these red, white and blue flags, I think of one of my favorite children’s books, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” by Dr. Seuss. This simple book playfully rhymes descriptive words about different types of fish — not just the variety of colors but also their shapes (although, I’m not too sure about the lines, “Some have two feet and some have four. Some have six feet and some have more.”). Dr. Seuss even describes their moods: “Some are sad, and some are glad. And some are very, very bad.”

But getting back to the colors of fish, while Dr. Seuss didn’t spend much time in Maine that I’m aware of, there happen to be both bluefish and redfish that live here. Bluefish are, in fact, slightly blueish in color and are speedy swimmers with sharp teeth that migrate along the East Coast. Their sharp teeth make them tricky to fish for and their oily flesh make them sometimes less desirable to eat. They’re much like a mackerel in their oiliness, which doesn’t mean they aren’t tasty but rather that they do better when cooked straightaway (before their oils render the flesh a rancid flavor), like over a hot grill or smoked and utilized in a dip — one of the most common ways you’ll see bluefish served.

Then there’s the redfish. This one is a bit more versatile for cooking and so is more commonly found fresh at seafood markets. The redfish that lives in Maine, Sebastes fasciatus, is the only species of ocean perch or rockfish living on our Atlantic coast. There are more than 50 rockfish species in the Pacific by comparison. Because their range extends up to Labrador, they are often called by the common name “Acadian redfish.” They can be found as far south as the mid-Atlantic. It is important not to confuse our Maine species with the more southerly red drum or red snapper common in the Gulf of Mexico. Sebastes fasciatus takes its scientific name from the fact that it has a series of lighter bands (fascia) along its reddish body. Sebastes is Greek for “venerable,” perhaps because it’s a pretty fish to look at due to its coloring. These fish don’t develop their color until they reach a few inches in size. As babies, they start out with a mottled coloring or black and green. As they move out from the shallow waters where they are born into deeper waters where they live as adults, they develop their distinctive red color along with prominent spines along their backs. They typically reach about 18-20 inches in length and have a flattened body and big eyes that they use to see in deep, dark water. That’s where they swim in schools and feed on shellfish, other crustaceans and smaller fish.

Acadian redfish are commercially fished and are managed by the New England Fishery Management Council’s Northeast Multispecies Management Plan that also covers other species of groundfish found in the Gulf of Maine. They are caught year-round, typically by using an otter trawl — a cone-shaped net that has an “otter” board on either side of it to keep it open, with fish swimming into the narrow “cod end” of the net. Redfish are currently considered a sustainable seafood option; although, this wasn’t always the case. In the 1950s, they were fished down to low levels. Their slow growth and reproductive rates meant that these fish had to be carefully managed. Redfish don’t mature until they are 5-6 years old. But on the flipside, they can live up to 50 years. In an effort to restore their population, strict measures including catch limits, minimum-size limits and spawning-area closures were put into place. By 2012, the fishery was no longer considered overfished. In fact, now it is one of the species certified under the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested program.

If you’d like to try Acadian redfish, it can be prepared in any number of ways as it has a mild flavor and nice, flaky texture. You can simply pan fry it, which is especially good if you can find filets with their pretty speckled skin still on. You can also roast in the oven or, if you’re lucky enough to find it whole, you can grill the whole thing.

And if you’re not sure what to do with it, “Go ask your dad.” Or if you’re wondering why “Not one of them is like another. Don’t ask us why, go ask your mother.” Regardless, this Memorial Day, as you watch those red, white and blue flags wave in the spring breeze, you can smile as you appreciate the variety of tasty fish we have here in the Gulf of Maine.

Susan Olcott is the director of operations at Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

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