Northern Kingfish

Northern Kingfish, Menticirrhus saxatilis

The Northern Kingfish, Menticirrhus saxatilis, whose common Spanish name is berrugato ratón, is a species in the Croaker or Sciaenidae Family, known collectively as berrugatas and corvinas in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Northern Kingcroaker. Globally, there are only nine species in the genus Menticirrhus, of which eight are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.

The Northern Kingfish have elongated and compressed bodies that are deepest in the pectoral fin area. They vary in color from dusky gray to almost black with silvery and metallic reflections dorsally and they transition to off-white ventrally. Their sides have irregular dark bars, the first two running obliquely backwards and upwards and those behind the first dorsal fin running forward and downward forming a blotch or two dark “V” shapes. They also have a dark bar below their lateral line that runs from the front of their anal fin to the base of their caudal fin. Their fins are dusky to blackish and, with the exception of the second dorsal fin, have off-white tips. Juveniles are much darker in color and are uniformly dark brown. Their head has a blunt nose, an overhanging snout, and a projecting upper jaw. Their small horizontal fleshy mouth lacks canines. They have a small barbel on their lower chin. Their anal fins are located below the middle of the second dorsal fin and have one spine and eight rays. Their caudal fin has a slightly concave upper lobe and a rounded lower lobe. Their two dorsal fins are separated; the first dorsal fin is tall and triangular and has a short base and ten spines with the third spine being the longest and having a filamentous tip; the second dorsal fin has a long and low tapering base with one spine and 24 to 27 rays. Their pectoral fins are large and pointed. They have three to twelve short gill rakers, which are absent in larger fish. They are covered with small scales. They are atypical for members of their family as they have no air bladder and are unable to make croaking sounds.

The Northern Kingfish are a schooling species commonly found demersal over sandy and muddy substrate in the surf zone and in estuaries. They are highly migratory moving southerly and offshore to depths of 400 feet during the colder months. Juveniles are found in estuaries and tidal creeks and have the ability to tolerate low salinities. They are normally found in mixed schools with other Menticirrhus species. They reach a maximum length of 46 cm (18 inches) and weight of 1.4 kg (3.0 pounds). They are benthic feeders consuming invertebrates including small crustaceans (crabs, shrimp, mollusks, and worms), small fish, and detritus. Their eggs are pelagic with short two-day incubation times. Juveniles settle out in estuaries and coastal areas in the spring and leave for deeper waters in the fall.

In Mexican waters the Northern Kingfish are found in all waters of the Atlantic with the exception of along the east coast of the Yucatan.

The Northern Kingfish can be confused with Gulf Kingfish, Menticirrhus littoralis (uniform silver color; no bars), the Southern Kingfish, Menticirrhus americanus (reddish-orange fins; no bar under rear portion of lateral line), and the Weakfish, Cynoscion regalis (no chin barbel).

The Northern Kingfish are not fished or sold commercially but are a targeted species of surf fishermen and are caught as a by-catch of shrimp trawls; if retained, they are sold in local markets. They are considered excellent table fare. From a conservation perspective, they are currently considered of Least Concern being abundant with stable and widely distributed populations. They can be adversely affected by red tides.

Northern Kingfish, Menticirrhus saxatilis. Fish caught from coastal waters off Placida, Florida, March 2017. Length: 33 cm (13 inches). Catch, photo, and identification of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.