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Southern Kingfish


whitingThe southern kingfish, or whiting, is a member of the family Sciaenidae and a common inhabitant of South Carolina estuaries, including those in the ACE Basin. It has an elongated body and a characteristic single barbel on its chin. The mouth is small and inferior, as is characteristic of fishes that feed on the bottom. Coloration varies somewhat with habitat, but it is generally gray to brown above with silvery reflections and 6-8 broad oblique lateral bars. The latter are not always distinct, however. Fins are dusky, sometimes with a black margin, especially on dorsal and pectoral fins. The caudal fin of adult kingfish has an elongated lower lobe, making its margin appear "s" shaped. Pelvic, anal and caudal fins sometimes exhibit a yellowish coloration.

Habitat and Biology

This species spawns in the late spring and summer in near-shore coastal waters. Young juveniles occur in channels and along the coast in the penaeid shrimp fishing grounds. Males and females are sexually mature by age two, and the oldest individual reported in South Carolina is age five. Their absence in the coldest months of the year suggests that they move either south or slightly offshore to warmer waters. Southern kingfish feed on a variety of benthic infauna and epifauna such as polychaetes, crustaceans and mollusks.

Species Significance

In South Carolina waters, there is no directed commercial fishery for southern kingfish; the commercial catch is incidental to the penaeid shrimp-trawl fishery. Though not considered a gamefish by recreational anglers, whiting are an excellent food fish and are sought after by pier fishers and surf fishers throughout the state. This species is neither threatened nor endangered, and there are presently no size or bag limit restrictions on it.


Bearden, C.M. 1961. Common marine fishes of South Carolina. Bears Bluff Lab Contribution No. 34. Bears Bluff Laboratory, Inc., Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina.

Johnson, G.D. 1978. Development of fishes of the mid-Atlantic Bight: an atlas of egg, larval and juvenile stages. Volume IV: Carrangidae through Ephippidae. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Services FWS/OBS-78/12. Ft. Collins, CO.

Smith, J.W. and C.A. Wenner. 1985. Biology of the southern kingfish in the South Atlantic Bight. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 114:356-366.

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