Gulf Butterfish

Gulf Butterfish, Peprilus burti

The Gulf Butterfish, Peprilus burti, whose common Spanish name is palometa del Golfo, is a member of the Butterfish or Stromateidae Family, known collectively as palometas in Mexico. There are only seven global members of the genus Peprilus, six of which are found in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and four in the Pacific.

The Gulf Butterfish have deep oval strongly compressed bodies with a depth that is 40 to 48% of standard length. They are pale blue in color and transition to silver ventrally. They are devoid of spots. They have a short blunt snout that is smaller than the diameter of the eyes and a small oblique mouth that ends before the eyes. Their eyes have a fatty ring around them. Their lower jaw projects beyond the upper jaw and their teeth are very small. Their anal and dorsal fins have very long bases of equal length; both are preceded by two to 4 short weak spines and have elevated front lobes that are short and triangular. Their caudal fin is deeply forked and their pectoral fins are pointed and longer than the head. They do not have pelvic fins. Their lateral line is high on the body. They are covered with small smooth scales.

The Gulf Butterfish are a pelagic species found in large schools over sandy and muddy bottoms at depths up to 800 feet. They are vertical migrators that spend the majority of their time in very deep water during the day and migrate toward the surface at night. Juveniles are often found under floating weeds and with jellyfish. They reach a maximum length of 25.0 cm (9.8 inches). Adults feed on jellyfish, small fish, crustaceans, and worms; juveniles on plankton and jellyfish. Spawning occurs slightly offshore twice a year at discrete intervals. They mature within one year and rarely live longer than two years.

In Mexican waters the Gulf Butterfish are found in all waters of the the Atlantic Ocean.

The Gulf Butterfish cannot be confused with any other species from the Atlantic due to its body shape and anal and dorsal fins. It is very similar, however, to the Pacific Pompano, Peprilus simillimus (snout longer than eye width) found in the Pacific.

The Gulf Butterfish are fished commercially and caught primarily with large otter trawl nets. They are sold whole, fresh or frozen, and can be found in great abundance in California ethnic fish markets.

Gulf Butterfish, Peprilus burti. Commercial fish courtesy of the Ranch 99 Market, San Diego, January 2008. Length: 20 cm (7.9 inches).