Sand Tilefish, Malacanthus plumieri
The Sand Tilefish, Malacanthus plumieri, whose common Spanish name is matajuelo blanco, is a member of the Tilefish or Malacanthidae Family, known collectively as blanquillos in Mexico. This fish is the only species in the genus Malacanthus and is found in Mexican waters of the Atlantic.
The Sand Tilefish have very elongated slightly compressed bodies with a uniform depth throughout their length that is 16 to 18% of standard length. They are pale blue-green overall and darker dorsally with fairly wide yellow bars on their sides that extend down to their lateral line. The anal and dorsal fins have three bands, dark, clear and thin yellow on the margins. Their caudal and pectoral fins are clear and their pelvic fins have a yellow tinge. Their head has blue striping on a yellow background that is more defined between the eye and the edge of the gill cover. They have a slender head with a rounded profile, a very small terminal mouth, smooth gill cover margins, and one large prominent blue spine. Their anal fin has one spine and 48 to 55 rays; their caudal fin is deeply lunate with long lobes; and their dorsal fin has four or five spines and 54 to 60 rays. Both anal and dorsal fins have very long bases. Their body is covered with rough scales.
The Sand Tilefish are a shallow-water benthic species normally found in pairs in sandy and rubble bottoms near grassy areas. They have been found at depths up to 480 feet noting that the fish photographed below came from 700-foot water. They reach a maximum of 70 cm (28 inches) in length and 1.0 kg (2.2 pounds) in weight. Males are larger than females and range further from their home base than females. They build tunnels out of sand, rubble, and shell fragments with entrances that can be up to ten feet in diameter and use these tunnels to avoid predation. They feed on amphipods, chitons, fish, polychaete worms, shrimp, stomatopods, sea stars, and sea urchins. They are aggregating spawners with females significantly outnumbering males indicative that they are protogynous hermaphrodites and change from female to male at midlife. They have a lifespan of up to thirty years.
In Mexican waters the Sand Tilefish are found in all waters of the Atlantic.
The Sand Tilefish is straightforward to identify and cannot be confused with any other specie due its markings.
The Sand Tilefish is not a focus of either commercial or recreational anglers. They are caught primarily by hook and line and occasionally in traps and bottom trawls. From a conservation perspective, they are considered of Least Concern due to their widespread distribution and lack of fishing pressure. They are without significant conservation measures with the only real concern being habitat destruction caused by deepwater shrimp trawls. Live fish are known to bite and can inflict wounds to humans when handled incorrectly. They are marketed fresh when sold commercially.
Sand Tilefish, Malacanthus plumieri. Fish caught from the waters of Pulley Ridge, Florida, August 2014. Length: 64 cm (25 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.