Illustration of Cobia

Rachycentron canadum


    Crabeater, Sergeantfish, Ling, Cabio, Cubby Yew, Lemonfish


    U.S. wild-caught from Virginia to Texas



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Closeup view of cobia being fed and raised in an offshore cage at Snapperfarm, Inc., in Culebra, Puerto Rico.

Closeup view of cobia being fed and raised in an offshore cage at Snapperfarm, Inc., in Culebra, Puerto Rico.


Cobia is a highly valued seafood species – they’re a popular game fish and taste delicious. Most of the cobia you’ll find in the market comes from aquaculture operations. In the wild, cobia are rarely seen in large groups, so only a small amount is wild-caught. Commercial fishermen do not specifically target cobia and only harvest them incidentally when fishing for other species.

China is the leading producer of farmed cobia. Other nations are developing technology to produce cobia, so global production of cobia will likely expand in the future. Ocean-cage operations are under way in Panama, the Bahamas, Vietnam, and Central America. In the United States, a freshwater facility in Virginia is producing and marketing farmed cobia, and research efforts are ongoing to enhance commercial aquaculture of cobia and demonstrate its technical and economic feasibility. 

Looking ahead

The South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils are developing a joint amendment that would modify the catch limits for cobia based on the results of the 2013 stock assessment.



Cobia are found in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate waters around the world, except in the Eastern Pacific. In U.S. waters, they’re most abundant from Virginia south through the Gulf of Mexico. Cobia 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 during the summer move to south Florida waters in the winter, possibly spending the winter near the Florida Keys.

Cobia are pelagic – they live near the surface of the water column. They prefer to live near any structure in the water (buoys, debris, shipwrecks, and artificial reefs) or large animals (sharks, turtles, and stingrays). Cobia are rarely seen in large groups. Adult cobia tend to travel alone or in small groups.



Cobia grow fast when they’re young and more slowly as they get older. They grow up to 6 feet and 100 pounds and can live up to 12 years. Cobia are able to reproduce when they’re young – females mature at age 3 and males mature at age 2. Depending on their size, females have between 375,000 and almost 2 million eggs. Cobia spawn 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. They spawn in coastal bays and estuaries.

Cobia are strong, aggressive predators, feeding on fish, squid, and crustaceans. In fact, they’re nicknamed “crab eaters” because the bulk of their diet is crustaceans. Larger pelagic fishes prey on young cobia.



Cobia is the only member of the family Rachycentridae in North America. The remora (shark sucker) is their closest living relative. In fact, they’re often mistaken for sharks or remoras. They’re dark brown with a single dorsal fin. Young cobia have distinct coloring, with alternating black and white horizontal stripes and splotches of bronze, orange, and green.



Scientists from NOAA's Southeast Fisheries Science Center monitor the abundance of these populations. Scientists, managers, and stakeholders assess the status of these stocks through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) process. In the past, cobia were considered to be one stock. The 2013 stock assessment determined that there are actually two separate migratory stocks, which were designated as the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic stocks. The stock assessment results define Georgia north through the Mid-Atlantic area for the Atlantic stock, and the entire east coast of Florida through Texas for the Gulf stock. Cobia are managed jointly by both the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils under the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan.  



The most recent stock assessment (2013) found that the Gulf of Mexico stock was 7 percent above, and the Atlantic stock was 29 percent above, their respective target population levels. Neither stock is overfished, and overfishing is not occurring on either stock. The cobia population in the Gulf of Mexico nearly doubled from the early 1980s to 2000.


Harvesting Cobia

Commercial fishermen do not directly target cobia and only harvest it incidentally while fishing for other pelagic species, such as mackerel, or while trawling for shrimp.



Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils

Current management: Fishery Management Plan for Coastal Migratory Pelagic Resources of the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic

  • Fishermen do not need a permit to harvest cobia.
  • Gear restrictions: drift gillnets are prohibited; authorized gear includes automatic reel, bandit gear, hand line, rod and reel, and pelagic long-line.
  • Cobia must be a certain size (33 inches fork length) to be harvested, and must be landed with their heads and fins intact.
  • Commercial and recreational fishermen may only keep two fish per person per day.
  • Separate annual catch limits exist for the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic groups of cobia. If the catch limit is reached or projected to be reached within a fishing year, both the commercial and recreational sectors of the fishery will be closed in the Gulf of Mexico. In the Atlantic, if the catch limit is reached or projected to be reached within a fishing year, the commercial fishery will be closed, and the recreational fishing season will be reduced the following year.
  • The Gulf group includes fish throughout the Gulf of Mexico and off the east coast of Florida. The Atlantic group includes fish from Georgia to New York.

Annual Harvest

Commercial harvests have been relatively stable for the past several years. The 2012 harvest was 49,732 pounds in the Gulf of Mexico and 123,418 pounds in the Atlantic.



The 2012 commercial harvest was worth $134,888 in the Gulf of Mexico and $365,208 in the Atlantic, close to $500,000 in total.



Cobia is popular among recreational fishermen because it’s a large, powerful fish that puts up a good fight and provides a tasty meal. Recreational fishermen follow the same regulations as commercial fishermen: a daily possession limit of two cobia per person, gear restrictions, and a minimum size limit. Some sight fishing for cobia is done by recreational fishermen. Recreational landings make up more than 90 percent of total landings. The 2012 recreational harvest was 924,697 pounds in the Gulf of Mexico and 1,010,160 pounds in the Atlantic.



Cobia have a sweet, rich flavor. The meat has similar oil content to coho salmon, so it’s moist and firm with a nice flake. Raw cobia meat is light tan. Cooked, it turns snowy white. Cobia skin is very tough and covered with tiny scales.






Cobia is a good low-fat source of protein. It is high in riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, and potassium.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 87
Protein 18.99 g
Fat, total 0.64 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.12 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 40 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 135 mg

Cobia Table of Nutrition



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