You Don’t Know Jack

FSF Staff July 26, 2010

The waters surrounding the great state of Florida provide essential habitat to thousands of species of marine fish. Learning how to identify what’s on your line is of a huge importance to anglers. Misidentification can lead to fisheries violations and hefty fines. It makes perfect sense that with a relentless barrage of increasing regulations anglers need to be on top of their game when it comes to species identification. While discerning the noticeable variations between a mutton and red snapper are rather simple, the Carangidae family—which includes the population of jacks—has a few family members that are easily confused.

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Greater Amberjack

Identification Guide

Greater Amberjack
In October of 2009, NOAA Fisheries Service determined that the 1,368,000-pound recreational quota for greater amberjack had been met. It was determined that immediate action was necessary to manage the stocks according to Magnuson requirements. As a result, the season was closed until December 31, 2009. Continuing on their bizarre and biased management practices, it is unknown if a seasonal closure will be enacted this year, so be sure to check with the appropriate governing bodies.

Lesser Amberjack (Seriola fasciata)

  • Not less than 14″ or more than 22″ fork.
  • Daily limit 5 aggregate banded rudderfish/lesser amberjack.
  • Must remain whole until landed ashore with head, fins and tail intact.

This small statured jack is extremely tough to distinguish from the greater amberjack, but there are a few key features that will help point you in the right direction. Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish between the two is size, with lesser amberjack rarely exceeding 10-pounds. Faced with juveniles of both sub-species is when you’ll run into an identification issue. Take a close look at the dark band that starts at the dorsal fin and you’ll notice it stops at the eye. This is a telltale sign that you’ve caught a lesser amberjack. Like greater amberjack, lesser amberjack have olive green/brownish black backs with silver sides, although they feature proportionately larger eyes than that of a greater amberjack. Commonly found near structures deeper than 100-feet.

Greater Amberjack (Seriola dumerili)

  • Atlantic: Minimum size limit 28″ fork measurement.
  • Gulf: Minimum size limit 30″ fork measurement.
  • 1 per harvester per day both Atlantic & Gulf waters.
  • Must remain whole until landed ashore with head, fins and tail intact.

The greater amberjack is appropriately named, as it is the mightiest of all jacks. With a vicious strike, intense runs and tenacious headshakes, it’s easy to identify a donkey AJ on the end of your line. It’s when juveniles are brought up from the depths that anglers make mistakes in regards to identification. Featuring elongated bodies, greater amberjack have dark brown backs with hues of blue and yellowish sides with silvery white undersides. Look at the dark stripe that runs from the dorsal fin towards the eye of the fish. If the line ends at the eye it is a lesser amberjack, but if the line stretches through the eye and towards the snout then it’s a greater amberjack. Commonly encountered 100 to 300-feet.

Almaco Jack (Seriola rivoliana)

  • No minimum size limits, no closed season and no recreational bag limit.

Although the coloration of an almaco jack is very similar to the greater and lesser amberjack, it is easily distinguished by the height of the first dorsal rays which are twice as high or higher than the longest dorsal spine. The body is sometimes uniformly brown with a blue/green hue, and lighter sides and belly. Overall they appear darker than other jack species and feature a more rounded shape. The sickle fin is the easiest way to discern between other jack species. Not to be confused with a greater amberjack, almaco jack often feature a dark bar that extends through the eye to the base of the dorsal. Commonly found offshore around floating debris.

Banded Rudderfish (Seriola zonata)

  • Not less than 14″ or more than 22″ fork.
  • Daily limit 5 aggregate banded rudderfish/lesser amberjack.
  • Must remain whole until landed ashore with head, fins and tail intact.

Six vertical bands easily identify juvenile banded rudderfish and as a result they are often misidentified as pilot fish. Once they reach about a foot or more in length these distinctive markings disappear. At a mature age, banded rudderfish are very similar in appearance to other jack species including juvenile lesser amberjack and yellow jacks. One feature that distinguishes the banded rudderfish is the white-tipped tail lobes. Generally encountered in shallower water than lesser and greater amberjack.

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