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What Is the State Fish of Florida?

The state fish of Florida is the vibrant Largemouth Bass, a symbol of the state's rich aquatic life and a favorite among anglers. This freshwater champion is not only a testament to Florida's biodiversity but also a key player in its recreational fishing industry. Wondering how this fish became an icon? Join us as we explore its fascinating journey.
Cindy Quarters
Cindy Quarters

Most states in the U.S. have one chosen species as a state fish. Florida, however, has both a freshwater and a saltwater state fish. The freshwater state fish of Florida is the Florida largemouth bass, and the saltwater state fish of Florida is the Atlantic sailfish.

Florida largemouth bass are highly popular game fish that live in many of the lakes and rivers that cover much of Florida’s land area. These fish typically grow as much as 3 feet (1 meter) long and weigh about 8 pounds (3.6 kg), though they sometimes get much larger. One largemouth bass caught in the 1930s weighed an enormous 22 pounds (10 kg). These fish are generally a silvery color with black patterns or striping on their back and sides.

A map of the US.
A map of the US.

They live in warm, slow-moving waterways or in the still waters of the many lakes that speckle Florida’s land area. Largemouth bass need plenty of vegetation to hide in and thrive in waters that contain an abundance of aquatic plants. They eat insects, crustaceans and smaller fish.

The second state fish of Florida is the Atlantic sailfish. The sailfish is very popular with saltwater fishermen. Typically, the adult fish weighs up to 50 pounds (22.6 kg), and fishing enthusiasts generally consider catching one to be a significant challenge. It is long and thin, often growing to about 11 feet (3.4 meters) in length.

An Atlantic sailfish is very striking in appearance. The top half of its body is a rich metallic blue with purple stripes while its lower half and underside is a flashy, shiny silver. The dorsal fin of the sailfish runs the length of its body and will stand straight up, forming the sail the fish is named for, when the fish is excited. Sailfish also use their dorsal fins for hunting and raise them in order to herd smaller fish into a confined area where they are more easily caught and eaten.

One of the things that make this state fish of Florida a thrill for fishermen is its tendency to leap far out of the water when hooked, with dorsal fins extended. Their ability to swim quite quickly, at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour (112 kph), adds to the challenge of catching these fish. Due to the increasing rarity of the Atlantic sailfish, sportsmen are asked to release them after catching them, allowing them to survive and reproduce in an effort to increase their numbers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the official state fish of Florida?

The official state saltwater fish of Florida is the Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus), designated in 1975. Known for its distinctive sail-like dorsal fin and its incredible speed, the Atlantic Sailfish can reach speeds of up to 68 miles per hour, making it one of the fastest marine predators. This species is a popular catch among sport fishermen and symbolizes the vibrant marine life found in Florida's coastal waters.

Why was the Atlantic Sailfish chosen as Florida's state fish?

The Atlantic Sailfish was chosen as Florida's state fish due to its significance in the state's sportfishing industry and its representation of the beauty and ecological diversity of Florida's marine environment. Its prowess as a game fish and its spectacular physical appearance, with a long bill and striking blue and silver coloration, have made it an iconic species in Florida's coastal waters.

Are there any conservation efforts for the Atlantic Sailfish in Florida?

Yes, there are conservation efforts in place for the Atlantic Sailfish in Florida. The species is managed under the Highly Migratory Species Management Division of NOAA Fisheries, which implements regulations such as size limits, bag limits, and seasonal closures to ensure sustainable populations. Additionally, catch-and-release practices are encouraged among sport fishermen to help maintain healthy stocks of this prized fish.

Can you eat the Atlantic Sailfish, and is it a common food fish in Florida?

While the Atlantic Sailfish is edible, it is not commonly sought after for its meat. The species is more valued for sportfishing rather than consumption. In Florida, the emphasis is on the thrill of the catch and the practice of catch-and-release, which aligns with conservation efforts to protect the species. Those who do choose to eat sailfish often describe the meat as firm and somewhat similar to swordfish.

How can anglers in Florida fish for the Atlantic Sailfish responsibly?

Anglers in Florida can fish for the Atlantic Sailfish responsibly by adhering to state and federal fishing regulations, obtaining the necessary permits, and practicing catch-and-release with proper handling techniques to minimize harm to the fish. Using circle hooks instead of traditional J-hooks can also reduce injury during catch. Additionally, anglers can participate in tagging programs that contribute to research and conservation of the species.

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