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Butterfish

Peprilus triacanthus

Illustration of a Butterfish

Also Known As

  • American butterfish
  • Atlantic butterfish
  • Dollarfish
  • Shiner
  • Skipjack
  • Sheepshead
  • Harvestfish

U.S. wild-caught butterfish is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

Above target population level.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

Fishing gears used to harvest butterfish have minimal impacts on habitat.

Bycatch

Regulations limit possession of bycatch species and require modified fishing gear to reduce bycatch.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Maine to South Carolina.

  • Taste

    Fatty, oily, and delicious.

  • Health Benefits

    Butterfish is a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, protein, vitamin B12, and selenium.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

Harvest

  • In 2016, commercial landings of butterfish totaled more than 2.5 million pounds and were valued at more than $1.7 million.
  • Butterfish are primarily landed in Point Judith and North Kingstown, Rhode Island; Montauk, New York; and New Bedford, Massachusetts. They are generally exported to Japan, where they are a popular menu item.
  • Otter trawls are used to catch butterfish.
  • Otter trawls can incidentally catch other fish and marine mammals as bycatch, and can impact habitat, depending on where they are used.
  • Gear restrictions (minimum mesh size) when fishing with otter trawls are used to reduce bycatch.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2018 stock assessment, butterfish are not overfished and not subject to overfishing.
  • The assessment indicated that butterfish are estimated to be at 141 percent of the target population level. However, scientists are concerned that recruitment (the number of smaller fish entering the fishery) has been declining in recent years.
  • Scientists at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center survey the abundance of butterfish off the East Coast.
  • They added temperature and habitat information into the stock assessment model, which helps them more accurately estimate fish abundance. Using this approach, the model indicated that the population was more abundant than previously estimated.
  • Incorporating this type of environmental information into stock assessments will become increasingly important as the climate changes and the oceans warm.

Location

  • Butterfish are found from Florida to Newfoundland, but they are primarily found from Cape Hatteras to the Gulf of Maine.

Habitat

  • Butterfish shift their distribution in response to changing bottom water temperatures.
  • During summer, they move northward and inshore to feed and spawn.
  • During winter, they move southward and offshore to avoid cold waters.

Physical Description

  • Butterfish are dull blue on the top, with pale sides and a silvery belly. Numerous irregular dark spots fade after they are harvested.
  • Very thin and deep-bodied, like a flounder set upright, and somewhat circular or rounded.
  • Small mouths with weak teeth and blunt noses.
  • 6 to 9 inches in length, though some individuals can reach 12 inches.
  • Up to 1.25 pounds in weight.

Biology

  • Butterfish are short-lived and grow rapidly.
  • Few live to more than 3 years of age, and most are sexually mature at age 1.
  • Spawning occurs during June and July.
  • They are semi-pelagic, and form loose schools that feed upon small invertebrates.
  • They have a high natural mortality rate and are preyed upon by many species of fish, marine mammals, and seabirds.

Last updated: 11/19/2018