FWC - Florida Marine Research Institute
Yes, this article is about the fish, not the mammal. Confusion about this common name – dolphin – has persisted for decades. To begin at the beginning, Carl von Linné (Linnaeus) named this species Coryphaena hippurus back in 1758. This is an important fishery species in tropical and temperate waters worldwide, where it is known by many different names: dorado (Cuba), delfin, doradilla, llampuga, lampuga, austriaco, dorado común (various regions of Mexico), Toohyaku (Japan), and mahimahi (Hawaii and most continental U.S. restaurants).
According to the book, ‘Common and Scientific Names of Fishes from the United States and Canada’, the official common name for C. hippurus is dolphin (American Fisheries Society Special Publication 20; www.fisheries.org ). However, this popular appellation often leads to confusion about which species one is talking about: the fish or the mammal. This confusion regarding our scaly – versus our just-slightly-hairy – brethren with fins should soon come to an end. An updated, but still-unpublished ‘Names of Fishes’ book will change the common name of this species from dolphin to dolphinfish. In fact, ‘dolphinfish’ has already appeared in recent fishery assessments and in the most recent edition of ‘Fishes of the Gulf of Maine’ (www.sipress.si.edu). Certainly this new common name will clear up the public’s confusion over one of Florida’s most important living marine resources.
Dolphinfish are BIG for Florida’s fishing economy. They are caught along all of Florida's coastlines, although landings are concentrated in the southeastern part of the state. Fishing for dolphinfish can be an offshore adventure, typically occurring in the Gulf Stream system or on the other side of this “river in the ocean.” Despite this need to go offshore to find them, the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS) data show that dolphinfish are the number-one species targeted by Florida Atlantic coast anglers, making the dolphinfish sport-fishery arguably one of the most valuable fisheries to the state of Florida. About 90% of the dolphinfish landed in Florida are by recreational anglers. Florida's commercial dolphinfish landings add an additional value of 1.5-2.0 million US$ in dockside sales annually. Since 1986, a total (recreational and commercial) of 5-17 million pounds of dolphinfish are landed annually in Florida.
Looking beyond the fishery numbers, dolphinfish are a very popular offshore gamefish because of their brilliant hues, their fierce fighting ability once hooked, their excellent table fare, and their large size. The International Game Fish Association (www.igfa.org) world record dolphinfish is 39.6 kg (88 lbs.) caught near Exuma, Bahamas. According to Doug Blodgett, the IGFA Record Keeper, even heavier fish are occasionally reported but these have not been weighed on certified scales. The largest dolphinfish, typically males, tend to be more solitary. If you are targeting these big bulls, be prepared to burn lots of fuel. On the other hand, schools of smaller dolphinfish congregate beneath any object floating in the water such as wood or mats of Sargassum weed.
Because dolphinfish are so large, their short life cycle is remarkable. Most dolphinfish live only a year or two, and their maximum age is only 4 years old. Dolphinfish grow to more than 1 meter (40 inches), or over half of their maximum size, in their first year! These fantastic growth rates have been replicated under aquaculture conditions in North Carolina, Florida, and Hawaii. In the wild, dolphinfish are voracious carnivores, typically swallowing whole