The fatty and oily quality of the meat of the butterfish does not detract from its reputation as an excellent food fish. It is sold fresh, smoked, and frozen and may be prepared in many ways; the meat is white, tender, and moist and contains few bones. The fat content of the flesh varies greatly over time, at its minimum in August and its maximum in November. Despite its culinary significance, the butterfish’s importance to anglers is as a live or a dead bait for larger saltwater gamefish and as natural forage for assorted species. The shape of the butterfish resembles that of some members of the jack family.
American butterfish, Atlantic butterfish, dollarfish, pumpkin scad, sheepshead; French:
Spanish: palometa pintada.
Identification of Butterfish
An oval fish, the butterfish has a very thin and deep body and a blunt head. The anal and the dorsal fins are equally long. Butterfish are silvery fish, with pale blue coloring on the back and the upper sides, which often have irregular dark spots and usually possess 17 to 25 large pores directly underneath the dorsal fin.
Size/Age of Butterfish
The butterfish grows quickly, although it rarely exceeds more than 1 pound in weight or more than 12 inches in length. It is usually a short-lived fish, although it is thought to be capable of living longer than 4 years.
Sexual maturity is reached when butterfish are 2 years old and close to 8 inches in length. Spawning occurs once a year from May through August in offshore waters. The eggs float freely until they hatch within 2 days; juveniles enter coves or estuaries to conceal themselves in floating weeds and among jellyfish tentacles for protection from predators.
Food and feeding habits
Feeding primarily on jellyfish, butterfish are one of very few fish that eat such lownutrition foods. Their diet also consists of assorted small worms, crustaceans, squid, shrimp, and fish.
Inhabiting the western Atlantic Ocean, butterfish occur in waters off eastern Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada, ranging down the North American coast to Palm Beach, Florida. They are also found in the Gulf of Mexico.
Butterfish live and feed in large, dense schools along the coast in near-surface waters less than 180 feet deep and in the 40° to 74°F range. They may also inhabit brackish waters and in the winter may move into deeper water. Juveniles are usually associated with floating weeds and jellyfish.