Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps


    Golden tilefish, Golden bass, Golden snapper, Great northern tilefish, Rainbow tilefish


    U.S. wild-caught from Massachusetts to Texas



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Tilefish live in burrows, sometimes forming undersea pueblo villages.


Tilefish is a mild-tasting white fish harvested from southern New England to the Gulf of Mexico. The saying “you are what you eat” rings true for this fish – they mainly feed on crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs, and people often describe the tilefish’s sweet flavor as similar to crab or lobster. Tilefish was first caught and identified in 1879 in waters south of Nantucket. A commercial fishery quickly developed in this area when people discovered what a tasty meal tilefish made.

Today, the commercial tilefish fisheries in the Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England and the Gulf of Mexico are managed through individual fishing quota (IFQ) programs. While the specific details of these programs vary by region, in general, managers allocate a share percentage of the annual catch to participating fishermen. Fishermen can choose when to fish for their allocation throughout the year, ideally when market and weather conditions are best. Catch share programs such as these offer fishermen a direct incentive to use sustainable practices – the quota can be increased as fish populations grow, leading to an increase in each fisherman's individual allocation and subsequent profits.

In the South Atlantic, fishing rates had been too high since the 1980s. Managers implemented measures in 2007 to stop overfishing and increase the tilefish population. These regulations reduced harvest by one-third, and the next stock assessment in 2011 found that these measures had ended overfishing and helped the tilefish stock grow. As a result, managers increased annual catch limits for both the commercial and recreational tilefish sectors in 2012.

Looking Ahead

In the South Atlantic, tilefish is caught in the snapper-grouper fishery. In an effort to rebuild less abundant snapper-grouper species, managers have imposed stricter harvest limitations on snapper-grouper fishermen. As a result, more fishermen have started targeting tilefish, intensifying the existing “race to fish” and resulting in a shortened season. The tilefish fishing season has recently been shortened to such a degree that South Carolina longline fishermen (who typically cannot fish until April or May due to weather conditions) and hook-and-line fishermen in Florida (who typically do not fish until the fall) are increasingly unable to participate in the fishery. To resolve this problem, managers created separate quotas for the longline fishers and hook-and-line fishers. Additionally, fishery managers implemented measures that limit participation in the longline component of the commercial tilefish fishery and limit the amount of tilefish fishermen can harvest per fishing trip.



Tilefish are found along the outer continental shelf and upper continental slope of the entire U.S. East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. They’re most abundant from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, south to Cape May, New Jersey. Tilefish live in water from 250 to 1,500 feet deep where bottom temperatures range from 49 to 58 degrees F. Individual tilefish are found in and around submarine canyons, where they burrow in mud or sand sediment. Tilefish sometimes concentrate in small groups. Based on observations from small research submersibles tilefish habitats can be classified as rocks and boulders, pueblo habitats, or vertical burrows. Vertical burrows are the most common type of habitat. Pueblo habitats are found in the side of submarine canyon walls and are named because of their similarity to the pueblo communities of Native Americans in the southwestern United States. Managers have closed four deep water canyons in the Mid-Atlantic to bottom-tending mobile gear (including otter trawls) in order to protect tilefish habitat. Many fish and crustacean species are found in and around tilefish habitat because it provides food and shelter.



Tilefish grow slowly, up to 3 ¾ feet, although the average size harvested is 2 feet. They have a long life span, up to 46 years (females) and 39 years (males). These are the oldest tilefish on record, but radiometric dating techniques indicate tilefish may live as long as 50 years. Tilefish are able to reproduce when they reach 5 to 6 years old, at a size of about 1.7 feet long and 3 pounds. Tilefish are thought to be gonochoristic (staying one sex throughout their entire lifetime). However, recent research has concluded that tilefish in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are protogynous hermaphrodites (beginning as females and transitioning into males), like many grouper species. They spawn during March through November in the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic and from January through June in the Gulf of Mexico. Spawning peaks in June (Mid-Atlantic) and April (South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico). Females release 2 to 8 million eggs when they spawn.

Tilefish feed during the day on the bottom, eating shrimp, crabs, clams, snails, worms, anemones, and sea cucumbers. Monkfish, spiny dogfish, conger eels, large bottom-dwelling sharks (such as dusky and sandbar sharks), and other tilefish prey on juvenile tilefish.



Tilefish, sometimes known as “the clown of the sea,” are colorful. They are iridescent blue-green on the back, with numerous spots of bright yellow and gold; their bellies are white, and their heads are rosy with blue under the eyes. Their pectoral fins are sepia-colored, and the edge of their anal fins is purplish-blue. The tilefish is easily distinguishable from other members of the family Branchiostegidae by its large adipose flap (crest) on the head. Male tilefish can be distinguished from females by their larger crest.



Scientists from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center conduct stock assessments on the Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England tilefish stock, mainly using data from the fishery.

Scientists from NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center monitor the abundance of the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico tilefish stocks. Scientists, managers, and stakeholders assess the status of these stocks through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) process.



In the Mid-Atlantic, tilefish was declared overfished in 1998 when abundance fell to about 35 percent of the target level. Abundance has increased since 2001, and tilefish is no longer considered overfished. The latest stock assessment (2014) shows that the Mid-Atlantic population is above the target level and is rebuilt.

According to the latest stock assessment (2011), scientists estimate that the South Atlantic stock is above target population levels and is not overfished.

In the Gulf of Mexico, the latest stock assessment (2011) showed tilefish abundance declining since the 1980s in the eastern Gulf until 1990, but increasing and now stable in the western Gulf. The stock is not overfished.


Harvesting Tilefish

Most of the commercial harvest of tilefish comes from the Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England area, especially New York. Small U.S. longline fisheries catch the majority of the commercial harvest. A small amount of tilefish are caught with otter trawls in the Mid-Atlantic and longlines and handlines in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.



Who’s in charge? Tilefish are found and harvested along the entire U.S. East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. The Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils develop management measures for the tilefish fisheries in their respective jurisdictions. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for implementing and enforcing these measures.

Current management: Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England (north of the Virginia/North Carolina border): Tilefish Fishery Management Plan.

  • Annual catch limits – if the catch limit is exceeded, the amount of the overage is deducted from the annual catch limit (and the individual fishing quota (IFQ) level) for the following year.
  • Fishermen must have a permit to commercially harvest tilefish.
  • Commercial fishermen directly targeting tilefish participate in an IFQ program. Participating fishermen are allocated a share of the annual harvest quota. They can choose when to fish for their share of the catch, ideally when market and weather conditions are best. In addition to regular vessel trip reporting and dealer reporting of landings, fishermen must report their catch from each fishing trip within 48 hours of returning to port. They are also prohibited from discarding tilefish.
  • Fishermen who incidentally harvest tilefish while targeting other species may only harvest a certain amount of tilefish per fishing trip. There is an annual limit on incidental landings and if that limit is reached, the incidental fishery is closed.
  • Gear restrictions - bottom tending mobile gear (such as trawls) are prohibited in certain areas in federal waters to reduce impacts on key tilefish habitats.

South Atlantic (Virginia/North Carolina border through Florida): Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan.

  • Fishermen must have a permit to commercially harvest tilefish.
  • Annual catch limits for the commercial fishery by gear type (longline and hook-and-line). Managers close the fishery for the remainder of the year when data indicate the catch limit will be reached.
  • A limit on the amount of tilefish commercial fishermen may harvest during a fishing trip.
  • Gear restrictions – longline gear is prohibited in certain areas to protect snapper-grouper species and live-bottom habitat.

Gulf of Mexico: Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan.

  • Annual catch limits.
  • IFQ program — permitted fishermen each receive a share percentage of the commercial tilefish catch quota (includes tilefish, blueline tilefish, and goldface tilefish). Fishermen can choose when to fish for their allocation of the catch, ideally when market and weather conditions are best. They are required to report when and how much tilefish they land after each fishing trip.
  • To protect reef fish, sea turtles, and bottom habitat, there are restrictions on the areas/depths where longlines can be used.

Annual Harvest

More than 2.78 million pounds of tilefish were harvested in U.S. commercial fisheries in 2012. Greater than 60 percent was landed in New York. Florida and New Jersey account for a large amount of the commercial harvest as well.



Total commercial landings in 2012 were valued at more than $7.8 million. In the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, tilefish are a lower-valued fish, compared to other, more well-known reef fishes. Their popularity and value may increase in the future as harvests of some snapper-grouper species are restricted.



In the Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England area, recreational fishermen can keep a limited number of tilefish per fishing trip.

In the South Atlantic, there is a limit on how many tilefish recreational fishermen can keep as well as a limit on the total amount that can be harvested during the year. The recreational fishery is closed when the annual catch limit is projected to be met. If there is an overage, recreational landings are monitored in the following year. If high landings persist, the fishing season is shortened as necessary.

In the Gulf of Mexico, tilefish are included in the reef fish aggregate bag limit, along with several other reef fish species. There is a limit on how many of these reef fish recreational fishermen can keep.

The recreational fishery for tilefish is much smaller than the commercial fishery. Annual recreational catches typically total 1 or 2 metric tons (1 metric ton = 2,204 pounds).



Tilefish has a mild flavor, similar to lobster or crab. Raw tilefish is pinkish-white; when cooked, it turns white and is firm and flaky. Almost all tilefish is sold fresh.






Tilefish is low in sodium. It is also a good source of niacin and phosphorus, and a very good source of protein, vitamin B12, and selenium. Researchers have investigated the protective effects of selenium (normally at high levels in fish tissue) to mercury toxicity (see Selenium and Mercury in Fish (PDF)). Most tilefish are harvested from the Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England area where there is no evidence of methylmercury contamination. However, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico may contain amounts of methylmercury in excess of the FDA's recommended limit for nursing moms, moms-to-be, and young children. For more information, see EPA and FDA advice on what you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish disclaimer.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g
Calories 96
Protein 17.5 g
Fat, total 2.31 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.441 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 50 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 53 mg

Tilefish Table of Nutrition