Information from FAO Species Identification Guide Western Central Atlantic

Sheepshead - Archosargus probatocephalus



Diagnostic characters: Body oval, compressed and moderately deep (the depth about twice in standard length). Snout moderately blunt; posterior nostril slit-like; mouth comparatively small, the maxilla not reaching to below anterior eye margin. Jaws anteriorly with a series of 8 (4 on each side) broad incisor-like teeth, their edges straight or only slightly notched (in large adults); laterally with several series of molar-like teeth (3 in upper, 2 in lower jaw). Dorsal fin usually with 12 spines and 11 soft rays, preceded by a small forward- directed spine embedded in the skin. Anal fin with 3 spines, the second spine very strong; usually 10 anal-fin soft rays. Pectoral fins long, extending beyond the anal opening when appressed. Caudal fin slightly forked. Scales in lateral line 45 to 49. Colour: grey with 5 or 6 (rarely 4 or 7) dark vertical bars on body and one on nape, generally slightly narrower than pale interspaces (bars more evident on young); no dark spot near origin of lateral line.


Size: Maximum to 91 cm, commonly to 35 cm; world game record 9.63 kg.

Habitat, biology, and fisheries: Inhabits inshore, rocky, and hard-substrate areas; freely enters brackish water. Feeds primarily on sessile invertebrates such as bryozoans, molluscs, barnacles, and crustaceans. Caught mainly with bottom longlines and trawls; prominent in the catch of anglers. An excellent foodfish; usually marketed fresh. The catch reported from Area 31 totaled 1 501 t in 2000 and has remained fairly stable over the last 10 years.

Distribution: Nova Scotia to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico; absent from the West Indies; a few scattered reports from Honduras to Rio de Janeiro.

Note: Archosargus probatocephalus is subdivided into 3 subspecies by some authors: A. p. probatocephalus for the northern form from Nova Scotia to Cedar Key on the west coast of Florida, A. p. oviceps Ginsburg (which is associated with mud bottoms) in the Gulf of Mexico from St. Harks, Florida to the Campeche Bank, and A. p. aries from Belize to Bahia de Sepetiba (just south of Rio de Janeiro).