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Tilefish

Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps

Also Known As

  • Golden tilefish
  • Golden bass
  • Golden snapper
  • Great northern tilefish
  • Rainbow tilefish

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

Population

Near target population levels in the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels in the Mid-Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Reduced to end overfishing in the South Atlantic.

Habitat Impacts

Fishing gear used to catch tilefish rarely contacts the ocean floor and has minimal impacts on habitat.

Bycatch

Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Massachusetts to Texas.

  • Taste

    Tilefish has a mild flavor, similar to lobster or crab. Almost all tilefish is sold fresh.

  • Texture

    Firm and flaky.

  • Health Benefits

    Tilefish are low in sodium. They are a good source of niacin and phosphorus, and a very good source of protein, vitamin B12, and selenium. More information on health and seafood.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • 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.
  • The Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England Tilefish Fishery Management Plan includes:
    • Annual catch limits.
    • Permit requirements.
    • Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program.
    • An overall annual limit on incidental landings of tilefish and a per-trip possession limit.
    • Closure of the incidental fishery if the annual limit is reached, prohibiting any additional landings.
    • Prohibition of bottom-tending mobile gear (such as trawls) in certain areas in federal waters to reduce impacts on key tilefish habitats.
  • The South Atlantic Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan includes:
    • Permit requirements, including a limited access endorsement program to harvest golden tilefish with longline.
    • Annual catch limits by commercial gear type (longline and hook-and-line).
    • Commercial trip limits.
    • Prohibition of longline gear in certain areas to protect snapper-grouper species spawning sites and live-bottom habitat.
  • The Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan includes:
    • Annual catch limits for recreational and commercial anglers.
    • A commercial IFQ program.
    • To protect reef fish, sea turtles, and bottom habitat, restrictions on the areas/depths where longlines can be used.
  • The South Atlantic stock is subject to overfishing according to the 2016 stock assessment. When overfishing occurs, managers take measures to reduce the fishing rate to end overfishing.
  • The commercial tilefish fisheries in the Mid-Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico are managed through IFQ programs.
    • Specific details vary by region but, in general, managers allocate a percentage of the annual catch to participating fishermen.
    • Fishermen choose when to fish for their allocation throughout the year, ideally when market and weather conditions are best. This also results in a more consistent supply of fish to the consumer and increased safety at sea.
    • Catch share programs, such as these IFQ programs, offer fishermen a direct incentive to use sustainable fishing practices – the quota may be increased as fish populations grow, leading to an increase in each fisherman's individual allocation and subsequent profits.
  • For more information, visit the NOAA Fisheries Mid-Atlantic Tilefish Fishery Management Plan website, the NOAA Fisheries Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan website, or the NOAA Fisheries South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan website.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • In 2019, commercial landings of tilefish totaled nearly 2.3 million pounds and were valued at nearly $8.1 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database. The majority of the commercial harvest was landed in New York, Florida, and New Jersey.
    • Most of the commercial harvest of tilefish comes from the Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England stock, the largest of the three U.S. tilefish stocks.
  • Gear types:
    • Bottom longline gear catches the majority of the commercial harvest.
    • A small amount of tilefish are caught with otter trawls in the Mid-Atlantic and with handlines in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • U.S. recreational fisheries for tilefish are smaller than the commercial fisheries, but have been increasing in recent years.
    • In 2019, recreational anglers landed nearly 700,000 pounds of tilefish, according to the NOAA Fisheries recreational fishing landings database. The majority of the recreational harvest was landed in Florida.
    • Regional recreational management measures include:
      • Recreational fishermen can keep a limited number of tilefish per fishing trip in the Mid-Atlantic/Southern New England area.
      • There is a limit on how many tilefish recreational fishermen can keep and a limit on the total amount that can be harvested during the year in the South Atlantic.
      • The South Atlantic recreational fishery is closed when the annual catch limit is projected to be met.
      • In the Gulf of Mexico, tilefish are included in the reef fish aggregate bag limit, along with several other reef fish species, and the fishery is closed when the annual catch limit is projected to be met.

The Science

Population Status

  • There are three stocks of tilefish: Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico stocks. According to the most recent stock assessments:

    • The Mid-Atlantic stock is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing (2017 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.

    • The South Atlantic stock is not overfished (2016 stock assessment), but is subject to overfishing based on 2019 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.

    • The population status of the Gulf of Mexico Tilefishes Complex, which includes tilefish, is unknown. The complex has not been assessed, but according to 2019 catch data, the complex is not subject to overfishing.

Location

  • 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 are most abundant from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, south to Cape May, New Jersey.

Habitat

  • Tilefish live in water from 250 to 1,500 feet deep where bottom temperatures range from 49 to 58 ° F.
  • Individual tilefish are found in and around submarine canyons, where they burrow in mud or sand sediment.
  • Tilefish sometimes concentrate in small groups.
  • 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 resemblance to the pueblo communities of Native Americans in the southwestern United States.
  • Managers have closed four deep water canyons from Georges Bank to the Mid-Atlantic to bottom-tending mobile gear (such as otter trawls) to protect tilefish habitat.
  • Many fish and crustacean species are found in and around tilefish habitat because it provides food and shelter.

Physical Description

  • 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.
  • Golden tilefish are easily distinguishable from other members of the tilefish family by the large crest on their head.

Biology

  • Tilefish grow slowly, up to 43 inches, although the average size harvested is 24 inches.
  • 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 13 inches long and 3 pounds (approximately 2 to 4 years old).
  • Tilefish spawn from March through November in the Atlantic and from January through June in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Spawning peaks in June (Mid-Atlantic) and from April to June (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.

Last updated: 12/28/2020