Southern Kingfish

Southern Kingfish, Menticirrhus americanus

The Southern Kingfish, Menticirrhus americanus, whose common Spanish name is berragato zorro, is a member of the Croaker or Sciaenidae Family, known collectively as berrugatas and corvinas in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Southern King Croaker. Globally, there are nine members in the genus Menticirrhus, eight of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.

The Southern Kingfish have slender elongated bodies with a flat underside and a rounded cross-section. They have an overall silvery-gray coloration with a golden sheen and transition to pale gray ventrally. Most fish have seven or eight broad slanting dark bands on their back. Males and females have a similar appearance. Their head is long with an overhanging conical snout that projects beyond a horizontal mouth. They have a short thick barbel under their chin. Their anal fin has one spine and 7 or 8 rays; their caudal fin has a concave upper lobe and a rounded lower lobe; their first dorsal fin is triangular with 10 spines and their second dorsal fin has one spine and 22 to 25 rays; and their pectoral fins are large and pointed. They have 10 short knobby gill rakers that virtually disappear in larger fish. Their lateral line extends to the end of the caudal fin. They are covered with small rough scales.

The Southern Kingfish are found demersal over sandy bottoms along the shore, in the surf zone, and in inshore bays at depths up to 350 feet. They are small in stature reaching a maximum of 50 cm (20 inches) in length and just over 1.0 kg (2.2 pounds) in weight. They are a euryhaline and eurythermal species capable of tolerating a wide range of temperatures and salinities. Juveniles are found in estuaries with very low salinity levels. They are found inshore during the summer months and in deeper waters when the coastal waters cool. They feed primarily on benthic invertebrates, including shrimps and other small crustaceans. They also eat amphipods, polychaete worms, mollusks, and small fish. Their chin barbell is used to locate prey on the bottom. Larvae feed on zooplankton. Reproduction is via batch spawning which occurs every seven days during the summer months. They have a lifespan of up to six years.

In Mexican waters the Southern Kingfish are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Southern Kingfish can be easily confused with the Gulf Kingfish, Menticirrhus littoralis (plain silver color; short pectoral fins) and the Northern Kingfish, Menticirrhus saxatilis (five or six oblique bars; dark stripe under lateral line; eight anal fin rays).

The Southern Kingfish are a common and popular fish for recreational anglers being caught from piers and beaches. They are considered excellent table fare with larger fish being filleted and small fish cooked whole. They are marketed commercially with the majority of fish originating as a by-catch of shrimp trawls.

Southern Kingfish, Menticirrhus americanus. Fish caught off the Sanibel Island Pier, Sanibel Island, Florida, March 2015. Length: 33 cm (13 inches). Catch, identification and photo courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.