Sport Fish: Mahi Mahi, Amberjack, Tarpon

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Dolphinfish are a popular sport and eating fish. Also known as mahimahi, mahi mahi dolphin fish, dorado, they are found in tropical waters worldwide. They have a blunt forehead and a single dorsal fin that extends along the entire length of their back and a forked tail. These and other features allow them to move swiftly through the water at seeds up to 60 kph and catch prey and escape predators.

The dolphinfish’s back is brilliant metallic blue or green. Its sides have dark or golden spots on a silvery background. The aim of the fish’s camouflage and coloration is to blend in with both the sky and the sea to confuse prey and predators who see the dolphins from either above or below.

Dolphinfish feed mainly on fish but also eat squid and crustaceans found on floating objects. They sometimes follow ships and form groups around floating seaweed. They breed throughout the year in the open ocean. Spawning generally occurs in the evening or night.

The name mahi-mahi comes from the Hawaiian language and means 'very strong', or more literally “strong, strong”, through the process of reduplication. Why are mahi mahi called dolphin fish or dolphins?. No one seems to know for sure. The word "dolphin" originally meant "womb", which aptly applies to female dolphins who have wombs and give birth to live young, but not the fish. One theory posited by BlueWater magazine is that underwater mammalian dolphins and dolphin fish make similar high-pitched noises to communicate. Maybe dolphin got their because this dolphin-like trait. [Source: Sciencing]

Websites and Resources: Animal Diversity Web (ADW); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Fishbase ; Encyclopedia of Life ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal

Pacific Mahi Mahi

Pacific Mahi Mahi

Pacific mahi mahi(Scientific name: Coryphaena hippurus) grow fast, and reach the length of up to two meters (7 feet) and the weight of 40 kilograms (88 pounds). They live up to 5 years and are capable of reproducing at 4 to 5 months old. The Pacific mahi mahi is distinguished from the pompano dolphin by the number of dorsal fin rays and a very wide, square tooth patch on the tongue.[Source: NOAA]

The colorful mahi mahi has a yellow underside, a greenish yellow top half, and blue and green dorsal fins. The brightly colored back is an electric shade of greenish blue. The the lower body has been described gold or sparkling silver, and sides have a mixture of dark and lights spots and streaks. The bright patterns and colors fade almost immediately after mahi mahi is brought on deck.

Pacific mahi mahi are top predators that feed in surface waters during the day. They eat a wide variety of species, including small pelagic fish, juvenile tuna, invertebrates, billfish, jacks, pompano, and pelagic larvae or nearshore, bottom-living species. Predators of mahi mahi include large tuna, marine mammals, marlin, sailfish, and swordfish. Mahi mahi are believed to spawn every 2 to 3 days throughout their entire spawning season (perhaps year-round), releasing 33,000 to 66,000 eggs each time.

Pacific mahi mahi are found in the Pacific and Western Pacific and are caught in the U.S. from California to Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Island territories. Most of the U.S. commercial harvest of Pacific mahi mahi comes from Hawaii. Pacific mahi mahi live near the surface in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. They swim together in schools as juveniles, but older fish are usually found alone. They travel seasonally as adults with changes in water temperature..

Mahi Mahi Fishing

Pacific mahi mahi are a popular recreational fish. In 2020, recreational fishermen harvested approximately 907,000 kilograms (2 million pounds) of mahi mahi in the U.S. Pacific Islands, according to the NOAA Fisheries recreational fishing landings database. [Source: NOAA]

U.S. commercial fisheries in the western and central Pacific harvest the majority of U.S. mahi mahi. In 2020, the commercial landings in the U.S. of Pacific mahi mahi harvested from the U.S. Pacific Islands and the West Coast totaled approximately 272,000 kilograms (600,000 pounds) and were valued at $2 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database. The majority of the catch comes from Hawaii.

Most mahi mahi are harvested using troll and handlines. Mahi mahi may also be caught incidentally in pelagic longline fisheries for tuna and swordfish. The amount of bycatch associated with the mahi mahi fishery varies. U.S. pelagic longline fishermen, who target tuna and swordfish and who may incidentally catch mahi mahi, are required to use specific tools and handling techniques to mitigate bycatch of turtles and marine mammals.

The population level of mahi mahi is unknown, but presumed stable. The fishing rate is at recommended level. Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch in the tuna and swordfish fisheries that incidentally catch the most commercially available mahi mahi. Scientists assume mahi mahi populations are stable because the species is highly productive and widely distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical Pacific. Mahi mahi can handle relatively high fishing rates, in part because it reaches sexual maturity at a young age, but precautionary management seeks to maintain current harvest levels. [Source: NOAA]

Greater Amberjack

Greater amberjack (Scientific name: Seriola dumerili) are large trophy fish prized by anglers. Also known as amberjack, medregal and coronado, they have a dark amber strip on their head, extending from their nose to their first dorsal (back) fin, which becomes more defined when the fish is excited or feeding. They have a brownish or bluish-grey back, a silvery-white belly, and an amber horizontal strip along the middle of their body. Juveniles have a yellow color and five or six dark vertical bars along the sides. [Source: NOAA]

Greater amberjack

During the period of high landings in the 1980s and 1990s, which produced the overfishing situation that exists today, greater amberjack became an important alternative for red drum, which experienced decreases in commercial landings. In the Gulf of Mexico, fishing rates were too high and the stock was declared overfished in 2001. The stock has been in a rebuilding plan since 2003.

Greater amberjack can grow up to two meters (6 feet) long and live to be 17 years old. Adults can weigh up to 91 kilograms (200 pounds), but are most commonly they weigh less than 18 kilograms (40 pounds). Adults eat mostly crab, squid, and other fishes found on reefs. Juveniles feed on plankton, including crustacean larvae and other small invertebrates. Predators include seabirds and larger fishes, such as yellowfin tuna..

Females grow larger in size and live longer than males. Greater amberjack mature at about 3 to 4 years of age and spawn primarily from March to June on reefs and shipwrecks. A female can release between 18 and 59 million eggs during a single spawning season.

Greater amberjack are found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the western Atlantic, they are found from Nova Scotia to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Some populations live in a particular location while others migrate, likely using a variety of habitats and areas throughout the year..

Juvenile greater amberjack school around mats of pelagic (open ocean) Sargassum in the Gulf of Mexico. Sargassum is an algae that provides food and protection for juvenile fish and invertebrates in the open ocean. Schooling behavior decreases as greater amberjack mature. They shift from inhabiting pelagic to demersal (near the ocean bottom) habitats at about 5 to 6 months of age. Sub-adults and adults congregate around reefs, rocky outcrops, and wrecks at depths of 60 to 240 feet.

Greater Amberjack Fishing

big greater amberjack

In 2020, recreational anglers in the U.S. landed more than 1 million kilograms (2.2 million pounds) of greater amberjack, according to the NOAA Fisheries recreational fishing landings database. In 2020, the commercial landings in the U.S. of greater amberjack totaled more than 350,000 kilograms (775,000 pounds) and were valued at more than $1.4 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database. Electric and hydraulic reels and hand lines are used to catch most of the commercial harvest of greater amberjack. Recreational harvest is by hook-and-line.

There are above target population level in the South Atlantic, but significantly below target population level in the Gulf of Mexico, where a rebuilding plan is in place. The population level in the Caribbean is unknown. The fishing rate is at recommended level in the South Atlantic. Reduced to end overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Bycatch is low because the gears used to catch greater amberjack are selective.

There are three stocks of greater amberjack: Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, and Caribbean. According to the most recent stock assessments: 1) The Gulf of Mexico stock is overfished and subject to overfishing (2021 stock assessment). 2) The South Atlantic stock is not overfished (2020 stock assessment) and not subject to overfishing based on 2019 catch data. 3) The population status of the U.S. Caribbean Jacks Complex, which includes greater amberjack, is unknown. The complex has not been assessed, but according to 2019 catch data, the complex is not subject to overfishing. [Source: NOAA]


Cobia (Scientific name: Rachycentron canadum) are popular sport and eating fish. Also known as crabeater, sergeantfish, ling, cabio, cubby yew and lemonfish, they are long and lean and dark brown in color with a single dorsal fin. Narrow body is dark brown on the top half and underside is white. Cobia are often mistaken for sharks or remoras. In fact, their closest living relative is the remora (shark sucker). [Source: NOAA]


Cobia are the only member of the family Rachycentridae in North America. They grow up to two meters (6 feet), weigh up to 45 kilograms (100 pounds) and live up to 12 years. They are able to reproduce when they are relatively young — females mature at age 3 and males mature at age 2. Young cobia have distinct coloring, with alternating black and white horizontal stripes and splotches of bronze, orange, and green.

Cobia They are strong, aggressive predators, mainly feeding on crustaceans but also fish and squid. Larger pelagic fish prey on young cobia. Cobia are found near structures in the water (buoys, debris, shipwrecks, and artificial reefs) or large animals (sharks, turtles, and stingrays). Adult cobia travel alone or in small groups.. They spawn in coastal bays and estuaries several times throughout their spawning season, which lasts from late June to mid-August in the Southeast and from late summer to early fall in the Gulf of Mexico. Females release between 375,000 and 2 million eggs each time they spawn.

In U.S. waters, cobia are most abundant from Virginia south through the Gulf of Mexico. They migrate seasonally in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Along the Atlantic coast, they move south and offshore toward warmer waters during the late fall and winter. Cobia found in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico during the summer move to south Florida waters in the winter, possibly spending the winter near the Florida Keys.

Cobia Fishing

big cobia

Recreational fishermen like cobia because it is a large, powerful fish that puts up a good fight and provides a tasty meal. In 2020, recreational anglers in the U.S. landed more than 2.1 million kilograms (4.6 million pounds) of cobia, according to the NOAA Fisheries recreational fishing landings database. [Source: NOAA]

Cobia must be a minimum size to be harvested, and must be landed with their heads and fins intact. Current minimum size limit is 84 centimeters (33 inches) fork length. Commercial and recreational fishermen have size limits, trip limits, and per person per day or per vessel per day bag limits. In 2020, the commercial landings in the U.S. of cobia totaled 131,000 pounds and were valued at $430,000, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database. Commercial fishermen do not directly target cobia and usually catch it while trawling for shrimp or fishing for other species such as mackerel.

U.S. wild-caught cobia is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations. The Population of cobia is below target level but fishing rate promotes population growth. The fishing rate has been reduced to end overfishing. According to the 2020 stock assessment, the Gulf of Mexico stock is not overfished but is subject to overfishing. Scientists from NOAA's Southeast Fisheries Science Center monitor the abundance of the population, and scientists, managers, and stakeholders assess the status of the stock through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) process.


Pacific Wahoo (Scientific name: Acanthocybium solanderi) are long fish with a skinny, narrow body. Also known as kingfish, peto, guarapucu, ono, and thazard batard, they are steel blue on the upper half of their body and more pale blue and silver colored on the bottom half. There are irregular blackish-blue vertical stripes on sides. They’re covered with small scales and have a series of 25 to 30 irregular blackish-blue vertical bars on their sides. Wahoo have large mouths with strong, triangular, compressed, and finely serrated teeth. Their snouts are about as long as the rest of their heads. [Source: NOAA]


Wahoo grow fast, up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) and 72 kilograms (158 pounds), though they are commonly between one and one and a half meters (3.3 and 5.4 feet) long. Wahoo mainly feed on fish, including frigate mackerel, butterfish, porcupine fish, and round herring. They compete with tuna for the same kind of food. Scientists have theorized that a wahoo is able to eat fish larger than itself by using its sharp teeth to render large prey into bite-size pieces. A number of predators feed on juvenile wahoo..

Wahoo spawn year-round in tropical waters and during the summer in higher latitudes, including Hawaii. Males are able to reproduce when they reach 80 centimeters (2.8 feet) in length, and females when they reach one meter (3.3 feet). They’re usually about 1 year old at this stage. Individual wahoo spawn multiple times throughout the spawning season. Females release millions of eggs per year to compensate for eggs that might not survive to adulthood.

Wahoo are found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. They are usually found in warm tropical waters but are also found in higher latitudes during the summer. Wahoo live near the surface and are frequently found alone or in small, loosely connected groups rather than in compact schools. They may also be found near banks, pinnacles, and natural debris drifting in the ocean.. In the U.S. they can be found off Pacific Islands and the West Coast. Caught long, narrow wahoo fish with vertical stripes and long snout on wet floor.

Wahoo Fishing

big wahoo

In 2020, recreational landings in the U.S. of Pacific wahoo totaled 1.9 million pounds, according to the NOAA Fisheries recreational fishing landings database. U.S. commercial fisheries in the western and central Pacific harvest the majority of U.S.-caught wahoo. In 2020, the commercial landings in the U.S. of Pacific wahoo from the Pacific Islands totaled 370,000 kilograms (817,000 pounds) and were valued at $1.8 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database. The majority of the catch comes from Hawaii. There is no directed fishery for Pacific wahoo, but they may be incidentally harvested in troll and longline fisheries. [Source: NOAA]

The population level is unknown, but presumed stable. The fishing rate is at recommended level. There is no directed fishery for Pacific wahoo. Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch in fisheries that incidentally catch this species. Scientists assume wahoo populations are stable because they are highly productive and widely distributed throughout the tropical/subtropical Pacific.

Wahoo can handle relatively high fishing rates, but precautionary management seeks to maintain current harvest levels. There are no management measures specific to wahoo because catch trends indicate that regulations are not necessary. However, management measures do apply to the troll and longline fisheries that incidentally harvest Pacific wahoo.


Tarpon are notoriously hard for fishermen to catch. The big ones don’t appear at any specific times of the year and sometimes they fail to show if the weather isn’t right. They are very finicky about what bait and lures they take and dash off if they sense any sign of fishermen or fishing boats.

tarpon fishing

Tarpon have remained virtually unchanged for millions of years. They have armor-like scales and a protruding, forward-thrusting jaw. When they feeds they turn their mouth upward and move their head from side to side, sometimes half rolling into their prey like a turning dive bomber.

Tarpon inhabit reefs and coastal waters near river mouths, mangrove swamps and salt marshes. They are found as far north as Cape Hatteras and as far south as Salvador, Brazil. They are found in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico and coastal waters in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, northern South America and around Caribbean islands. Small tarpon reach lengths of three and half feet and weigh about 40 pounds. Large ones, prized by anglers, can grow up to 250 pounds. The top speed of a tarpon is 40 miles per hour.

Tarpon in the Caribbean often feed on silversides, dwarf herring and anchovies that amass in huge schools in the afternoon, fed on tiny zooplankton and disperse in the evening. Describing a tarpon in action David Doubilet wrote in National Geographic, "The tarpon strolled on the first. attacked on the next. The silversides parted and regrouped. The tarpon came again, moving singly, then in squads. The enormous schools massed over my head, and the blue light of the surface suddenly became gray. [Source: David Doubilet, National Geographic, January, 1996]

"Suddenly more predators appeared. A group of jacks attacked, compacting the silverfish against the rock. In the confusion a dozen charged through. Thousands of tiny fish moved at once, making a sound like a rug being beaten."


Bonefish are considered one of the premier fly and light tackle game fish. Fishing for them, called bonefishing, is a popular sport in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, southern Florida and Cargados Carajos. Since bonefish live in shallow inshore water, fishing may be done by wading or from a shallow-draft boat. [Source: Wikipedia]

Bonefish are wary and skittish and it helps to be able to cast accurately to catch one. Bonefish weigh between two and eight pounds are prized by fishermen for their fighting ability and the skill it takes to catch one. They hang out mostly in shallow clear water and feed off the bottom by burying their mouth in the sand. "With their superb eyesight, lighting speed...they go bolting for open water at the slightest hint of a human presence.”

Bonefishing is mostly done for the sport, so the fish are released, but they may also be eaten in less developed areas. A typical Bahamian recipe is a split fish seasoned with pepper sauce and salt, then baked. When bonefishing great skill must be taken both in approach to the fish and the presentation. English speaking fishermen often refer to them as “grey ghosts."[4]


Bluefish (Scientific name: Pomatomus saltatrix) are a common fish in coastal areas and the open sea. They are frequently caught by anglers and provide food for a number of larger fish, including many sharks. Also known as tailor, snapper, baby blues choppers and elfs, they are light blue-green on the back and silvery on or shiny white on the sides and belly. They have a prominent jaw, with sharp, compressed teeth. [Source: NOAA]

Bluefish live up to 12 years. They grow fast, up to 14 kilograms 31 pounds and one mete (39 inches). They are able to reproduce at age 2, when they’re 15 to 20 inches in length. Bluefish spawn multiple times in spring and summer. Depending on their size, females can have between 400,000 and 2 million eggs. Females release their eggs in the open ocean.

Bluefish have razor-sharp teeth and shearing jaws that allow them to ingest large parts, increasing the maximum size of the prey they can eat. They eat squid and fish, particularly menhaden and smaller fish such as silversides. Sharks, tunas, and billfishes are typically the only fish predators large and fast enough to prey on adult bluefish. Bluefish make up a major part of the diet of shortfin mako sharks and are also very important in the diets of swordfish. Oceanic birds prey on juvenile bluefish..

Bluefish live in temperate and tropical coastal oceans around the world, except in the eastern Pacific. In the U.S. they can be found off New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast. They gather by size in schools that can cover tens of square miles of ocean, equivalent to 10,000 football fields. Bluefish migrate seasonally, moving north in spring and summer as water temperatures rise and then south in autumn and winter to waters in the South Atlantic Bight. Larvae develop into juveniles near the surface in continental shelf waters and eventually move to estuarine and nearshore shelf habitats. Juveniles prefer sandy ocean bottoms but will also inhabit mud, silt, or clay ocean bottoms or vegetated areas. Adults live in both inshore and offshore areas and favor warmer water..

Bluefish Fishing

In 2021, recreational anglers in the U.S. landed 5.8 million kilograms (12.8 million pounds) of bluefish, according to the NOAA Fisheries recreational fishing landings database. Florida, North Carolina, and New Jersey account for the largest percentage of the recreational bluefish harvest. Peak recreational harvest occurs from May through October with over 70 percent of the catch in July and August. Recreational fishermen use hook-and-line gear that has minimal impacts on habitat. [Source: NOAA]

In 2021, the commercial landings in the U.S. of bluefish totaled more than 1.1 million kilograms (2.4 million pounds) and were valued at $2.2 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database. Commercial fishermen use a variety of gears including trawls, gillnets, haul seines, and pound nets, and the impacts vary by gear type.

The number of bluefish in U.S. waters is Significantly below target population level. A rebuilding plan is in place. The fishing rate is at recommended level. According to the 2021 stock assessment, bluefish is overfished and not subject to overfishing. The recreational fishery accounts for the majority of the bluefish total catch in the U.S. each year. The market for bluefish is for human consumption and is primarily sold fresh or smoked. Commercial fishermen must have a permit to catch and sell bluefish. Managers set an annual catch limit. The majority of catch is allocated to the recreational fisheries.

Thousands of Fish Leap onto a Beach During a Bluefish Blitz

Bluefish exhibit feeding behavior called the “bluefish blitz,” where large schools of big fish attack bait fish near the surface, churning the water like a washing machine. They feed voraciously on their prey, eating almost anything they can catch and swallow. Describing an extreme example of this at Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks in North Carolina in 2022. Mark Price wrote in Raleigh News and Observer, “Multiple videos shared on social media show the ocean appeared to boil with fish as they tumbled over each other in the surf. The so-called “bluefish blitz” concluded with thousands of dying fish piled on the sand, flopping up and down as tourists watched from a distance. [Source: Mark Price, Raleigh News and Observer, October 17, 2022]

“Bluefish have been blitzing the Ocracoke beach off and on the past couple of weeks,” according to the Tradewinds Tackle fishing store on the Outer Banks. Amazingly beautiful and tragic at the same time. Smaller fish (mostly spot in these photos) are literally throwing themselves onshore to escape the teeth in the water. ... Bluefish have lots of teeth and will kill anything they catch.”

Some videos also showed the much-larger bluefish, racing through the water to catch and eat the smaller fish. Marybeth Druzbick of Sylva, North Carolina, saw it happening as she visited South Point on Ocracoke Island. Her videos show spot fish coming ashore in waves. “This is one of the strangest things I’ve seen at the beach!” she wrote.

“Bluefish blitzes” coincide with the seasonal southern migration of bluefish, which are cannibalistic and will snap at people, according to “Bluefish are extremely aggressive, and will often chase bait through the surf zone, and literally onto dry beach,” the site reports. “Thousands of big bluefish will attack schools of hapless baitfish in mere inches of water, churning the water like a washing machine. ... Bait fish, such as bunker, will willingly run themselves high and dry on the sand, where they will suffocate, rather than be shredded by the marauding bluefish schools.”

News of the blitz has gotten hundreds of reactions and comments on social media, including reports of people who walked the beach filling up baskets with fish. “Fish on shore and gulls in the air as far as the eye could see. Awesome!” posted Joel Gossett, who was among the witnesses. “Just pick them up. No hook needed. Crazy!” Duane Shreeves wrote. “Enough spot (fish) to feed 1,000’s of folks,” John Koster Jr. said.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, NOAA

Text Sources: Animal Diversity Web (ADW); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wikipedia, National Geographic, Live Science, BBC, Smithsonian, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Reuters, Associated Press, Lonely Planet Guides and various books and other publications.

Last Updated April 2023

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