Southwest Florida Baitfish – Species Profiles
Pinfish, Lagodon rhomboides are a common baitfish, in the United States found along the coast from Massachusetts to Florida and from Bermuda throughout the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula. Pinfish are important prey for many economically important fish, including grouper, snapper, spotted seatrout, red drum, snook, ladyfish, and flounder. Pinfish are very hardy and tolerate a wide range of temperatures (from 50 to 95 °F) and salinities from true freshwater to full saline ocean water.
Pinfish live up to 7 years and become sexual mature at 1 to 2 years of age, and 4.3 inches or larger, standard length (SL). Standard length is how scientists measure fish. It is from the head to the end of the fleshy part of the body…where the tail starts.
Pinfish migrate offshore to spawn from late fall to early winter, although one study found evidence that some spawning may also occur inside Tampa Bay. Females carry an average of 21,600 eggs and likely spawn several times within a single spawning season.
Pinfish larvae are transported into estuaries by ocean currents. Interestingly in Tampa Bay and Choctawhatchee Bay in the Panhandle, a study found that post-larvae (less than a half inch) settle in both shallow areas (less than 5 ft. deep), and deep water areas (greater than 5 ft. but less than 12 ft.) within one month of spawning. In Charlotte Harbor however, they only settle in shallow water areas. One to three months after showing up in Charlotte Harbor’s shallow areas, they begin to appear in the deeper areas.
In Charlotte Harbor, the same study as above found a positive correlation between young of the year recruitment and sea surface temperatures. The author indicated increased temperature may favor hatching success, larvae growth, or both. Or temperature may affect transport of pinfish larvae into the estuary. This same correlation was not found in Tampa Bay or Choctawhatchee Bay.
Pinfish are voracious predators and feed on an assortment of prey over the course of their development. Their dietary shifts appear to be related to changes in mouth size and tooth structure. Pinfish are sight feeders and therefore feed little at night.
Scaled Sardine, Harengula jaguana (white bait) occurs in the western Atlantic from New Jersey and Bermuda southward throughout Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, in the Caribbean and down to southern Brazil. Scaled sardines are fast-growing, short-lived marine and estuarine schooling fish, commonly found over sand and mud bottoms and on and around seagrass meadows. They are generally found in estuaries from spring through autumn, and prefer higher salinity waters.
Scaled sardines live just over one year and grow more than a half inch per month. They become sexually mature when they reach 3-3.5 inches, standard length (SL), and spawn offshore, typically 3-12 miles from shore.
Spawning occurs at night from January to September, with peak activity occurring from April to August depending on location. One study found spawning lasted longer in the southern Gulf of Mexico and another study from the Tampa Bay area found evidence of year-round spawning.
Spawned eggs hatch within 24 hours. The larval stage lasts 1-3 days and most larval development takes place in nearshore and inshore waters. During the post-laval stage the yolksac is absorbed and new bone is laid down in the head region. Transformation to juvenile occurs 25 days after hatching.
Adult scaled sardines feed exclusively on plankton and possess gillrakers for straining prey items from the water. Key predators reported for scaled sardines are sea birds, king and Spanish mackerels, little tunny, gag, bluefish, crevalle jack, yellowfin and bluefin tuna, and dolphin.
Threadfin Herring, Opisthonema oglinum (greenies, greenbacks, shiners) occur from Cape Cod to Florida along the Atlantic coast, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean and along the Caribbean coast of Central America to Venezuela. Atlantic threadfin are nearshore, pelagic fish that form dense surface schools. They feed on plankton, but occasionally consume small fish and crustaceans.
Threadfin herring are estimated to live 7-8 years. Female’s reach maturity at 5.7 inches fork length (FL) and males at 5 inches FL., and at ages of one or two plus years.
Adult threadfin herring generally follow a seasonal north-south and inshore-offshore migration pattern along the west coast of Florida. Schools of fish move south in the fall and concentrate in the winter within 10 miles of shore.
Threadfin herring spawn over a wide area in the Gulf of Mexico and south Atlantic and over a period of several months. Spawning can occur from February to September but peak spawning is from April to August. Most spawning takes place within 30 miles of shore over the inner continental shelf at depths less than 100 feet. The primary spawning area for threadfin herring is located in coastal waters from Tampa Bay to just south of Fort Myers. Spawning generally occurs when water temperatures exceed 78 degrees F and when salinity is above 35 parts per thousand (full strength sea water).
Eggs and larvae are generally found over the inner continental shelf off the west coast of Florida. Juveniles occur in the same areas as adults and are found in estuarine waters during the summer months. Adults and juveniles form schools near the surface and generally remain in schools throughout their life. School size increases in the fall prior to migration offshore.
King and Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and crevalle jack have all shown a preference for eating schooling fish such as threadfin herrings. One study found that 59% of the food eaten by king mackerel in Florida waters consisted of thread herring and scaled sardine. Threadfin herrings are also preyed upon by sea birds, wading birds, and bottlenose dolphin.
Spanish Sardine, Sardinella aurita occurs throughout the Gulf of Mexico, northward to Massachusetts and southward to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This species is also common in the eastern Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea and the western Pacific Ocean. Spanish sardines form schools in coastal waters from inshore flats to the continental shelf, often around piers and reefs, and prefer clear, saline waters. In the Gulf of Mexico, it is found from along the shore, mainly over sandy bottom, to a depth of 130 feet in the summer, between 130 and 260 feet in spring and fall, and out to a depth of 650 feet in the winter. In Florida, the primary fishery for Spanish sardines is located in Tampa Bay.
Juvenile Spanish sardines prefer inshore nurseries and feed on phytoplankton (microscopic algae). Adults move offshore to spawn and feed on zooplankton (microscopic animals). Predators of Spanish sardine are numerous and include little tunny, gag, and king mackerel.
Spawning occurs at night in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Most spawning in the eastern Gulf occurs over wide areas where depths are between 30 and 160 feet, although some eggs and larvae have been recovered from much greater depths. In the western Gulf, larvae have been reported from as far out as the Continental Shelf off Texas. Eggs and larvae have been collected in the eastern Gulf in all seasons, but are not abundant from May to September. Larvae begin actively feeding three days after hatching, and metamorphosis is complete in about 18 days. Spanish sardines live to around 5-6 years.
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Houde, E.D. 1977. Abundance and potential yield of the Atlantic thread herring, Opisthonema oglinum, and aspects of its early life history in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Fish. Bull. 75(3):493-512.
Finucane, J. H. and R. N. Vaught. 1986. Species profile of Atlantic thread herring, Opisthonema oglinum (Lesueur 1818). NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFC182.30 pp.
Florida Museum of Natural History. 2016. Species profiles. https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/discover/species-profiles/
Johnson, A.G. and R.N. Vaught. 1986. Species profile of Spanish sardine (Sardinella aurita). NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFC-187. 82 pp.
Nelson, G.A. 2002. Age, growth, mortality, and distribution of pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides) in Tampa Bay and adjacent Gulf of Mexico waters, Fish. Bull. 100:582–592.
Nelson, G.A. 1998. Abundance, growth, and mortality of young-of-the year pinfish, Lagodon rhomboides, in three estuaries along the gulf coast of Florida. Fish. Bull. 96:315–328.
Ohs, C.L., R.L. Creswell, and M.A. Dimaggio. 2013. Growing Marine Baitfish: A guide to Florida’s common marine baitfish and their potential for aquaculture. 2013. University of Florida/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center SGEB 69. 30 pp.
Ohs, C.L., M.A. DiMaggio, and S.W. Grabe. 2011. Species Profile: Pinfish, Lagodon rhomboids. SRAC Publication No. 7210.
Pierce, D.J., B. Mahmoudi, and R.R. Wilson Jr. 2001. Age and growth of the scaled herring, Harengula jaguana, from Florida waters, as indicated by microstructure of the sagittae. Fish. Bull. 99:202–209.
Richard F. Shaw, R.F. and D.L. Drullinger. 1990. Early-Life-History Profiles, Seasonal Abundance, and Distribution of Four Species of Clupeid Larvae from the Northern Gulf of Mexico, 1982 and 1983. NOAA Technical Report NMFS 88.
Smith, J.W. 1994. Biology and Fishery for Atlantic Thread Herring, Opisthonema oglinum, along the North Carolina Coast. National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Southeast Fisheries Science Center. 56(4).