Pilotfish, Naucrates ductor

The Pilotfish, Naucrates ductor, whose common Spanish name is pez piloto, is a member of the Jack or Carangidae Family, known collectively as jureles and pámpanos in Mexico. There is only one member of the Naucrates Genus, this species which is found in Mexican waters of both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The Pilotfish have elongated fusiform bodies that are wide in the middle and taper at both ends and have a depth that is 27 to 31% of standard length. They are silvery dark blue in color with a lighter belly and have six or seven black bars on their sides. Their caudal fin is either black with white lobe tips or black with white lobe tips and two white stripes. Their mouth extends to under the front edge of the eyes. Their dorsal fin has 4 or 5 small free spines. Their anal fin base is much shorter than their dorsal fin base. They have short pectoral fins. Their caudal base has a well-developed keel with notches above and below. They have no finlets or scutes.

The Pilotfish are a pelagic oceanic species found from the surface to depths up to 495 feet. They reach a maximum length of 70 cm (28 inches). They usually accompany large fish, such as rays and sharks, as-well-as turtles. Juveniles are found in floating weeds or within schools of jellyfish. They are always found accompanying the Oceanic Whitetip Shark, Carcharhinus longimanus. Their relationship with sharks is a mutually beneficial one with them gaining protection from predators and sharks gaining freedom from parasites. They consume parasites attached to their larger traveling companions and leftovers of fish consumed by the larger species. In Greek Mythology, they are known to follow ships for large distances with the ability to lead sharks to food and ancient mariners, whales, and swimmers to safety, giving rise to their common name. There are also reports that when “their” shark is caught they will follow that ship for up to six weeks.

The Pilotfish are a wide-ranging circumglobal species found on the west coast of the Americas from British Columbia to Chile. In Mexican waters they are found in all waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific with the exception that they are absent from of the northern third of the Sea of Cortez.

The Pilotfish cannot be confused with any other species, due to its body shape and the pattern of bars on its sides.

Due to their lifestyle, the Pilotfish are generally too small and too difficult to catch to be of interest to most, however, they are reported to be quality food fish.

Pilotfish, Naucrates ductor. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, July 2009. Length: 21 cm (8.3 inches).