Marine - Species

Atlantic Spadefish - Click to enlarge photo

SC Species Regulations for Atlantic Spadefish

Saltwater Fishing License required.

No state size or bag limits.

Federal Waters Limit: Not to exceed 20 per person per day in aggregate with all other snapper grouper complex species. No size limits or seasonal fishery closure.

SC Marine Gamefish Tagging

Atlantic Spadefish (Chaetodipterus faber)

General Description
Silver-gray to yellowish; disc shaped, nearly as deep as long; sides with 4 – 6 black vertical bars that may fade with age. First rays of anal and second dorsal fins elongate, forming a point. First dorsal fin spiny. Mouth small.

Average Size
12 - 18 inches, 6 pounds;
South Carolina State Record: 14 pounds, 2 ounces (2005);
maximum age: at least 8 years


Adults: Inhabit nearshore and offshore waters, typically over rocky or live bottom habitat and in association with wrecks, artificial reefs, and piers.

Juveniles:Tolerate wide salinity ranges; utilize estuaries, harbors, rivers, and tidal creeks, often in association with hard bottom, or sub tidal oyster reefs.

Reproductive Cycle

  • Both sexes mature by 1 year of age. Approx. size at maturity: males – 3 ¾ inches, females – 4 ¾ inches.
  • Spawning occurs at the surface in offshore waters during May – September (peak May-June).
  • Larvae inhabit warm, higher salinity nearshore coastal surface waters. Juveniles often utilize estuaries as nursery grounds.

Foraging Habits

  • Generalist feeders during daylight on a wide variety of invertebrate prey. Foraging occurs throughout the water column, along bottom, and on, around, or within manmade structure.
  • Prey includes sponges, polychaete and sabellid worms, tunicates, hydrozoans, soft corals, amphipods, anemones, algae, and crustacean larvae.

Availability/Vulnerability to Harvest

  • Distribution is primarily temperature dependent. Present in nearshore waters April – November. Juveniles leave estuaries during fall and join adults in shallow offshore waters; younger fish may remain near offshore artificial reefs almost year-round. Older fish probably overwinter in deep water offshore; some may also move southward as nearshore waters cool during fall.
  • Form schools of a few to several hundred fish. Strong schooling behavior in vicinity of manmade structure could increase vulnerability to fishing pressure.
  • No commercial fishery exists in South Carolina.
  • Conservation concerns: degradation or loss of nearshore larval habitat and estuarine nursery grounds; degradation or loss of limited nearshore live and hard bottom habitats; potential for overfishing; lack of knowledge regarding basic biology of spadefish in South Carolina waters.

Abundance of Species

GraphGraphs of abundance show relative annual abundance in South Carolina waters based on surveys conducted by the SC Department of Natural Resources.

Abundance is presented relative to the average of the 10 most recent years. Unlike graphs of the recreational and commercial fisheries catch, the abundance graphs use survey data that have been standardized to allow direct comparison among years.

The horizontal dotted lines above or below the "10 year average" represent one "standard deviation" unit, which is a measure of how variable the annual data are around the 10-year average. In general, the area between one standard deviation above the mean and one standard deviation below the average includes approximately 68% of the values. Approximately 95% percent of observations in the data set are found within two standard deviations of the average.

Fishery Status

Atlantic Spadefish Recreational Fishery Graph - Select image to view larger graph

Annual total catch for spadefish was variable with catch levels staying within one standard deviation of the long term average for most years. There was an exceptionally high year in 1983, otherwise peaks in catch occurred approximately every 5 years or so. There was an overall decline in recent years beginning in 2001. The percent standard error (PSE), which is a measure of uncertainty in the expanded catch estimates, was high during 1983, indicating the high number that year has some reliability issues.

Atlantic spadefish have only been reported commercially in one year (1979) in South Carolina since 1950. Spadefish have no size regulations but are managed under the 20 fish aggregate bag limit as part of the snapper/grouper complex. The only states with any commercial fishing for spadefish in the southeast occur in North Carolina and the east coast of Florida. More Information.

Literature Cited

Bell M. 2005. Atlantic spadefish. In: Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Columbia, S.C., S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Available: Accessed: September, 2009.

Ditty JG, RF Shaw, JS Cope. 1994. A re-description of Atlantic spadefish larvae, Chaetodipterus faber (family: Ephippidae), and their distribution, abundance, and seasonal occurrence in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Fish Bull 92: 262-274.

Hayse JW. 1987. Feeding habits, age, growth, and reproduction of Atlantic spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber (Pisces: Ephippidae), in South Carolina. Fish Bull 88: 67-83.

Schwartz FJ. 1998. Biological and ecological relationships for young Atlantic spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber (Pisces: Family Ephippidae) collected in the Cape Fear River estuary and adjacent waters, North Carolina, 1973 through 1978. J Elisha Mitchell Soc 114: 23-30.