What is Butterfish?

Nutritious butterfish fillets can be served pan-fried or grilled.

The butterfish, or peprilus triacanthus, is a schooling fish with an oval body that more or less resembles a plaice. This small fish inhabits the waters along the Atlantic coast of North America, between Florida and Newfoundland. Its body is mostly grayish blue and silvery, and it is usually covered in an abundance of dark, irregular patches. Butterfish grow quickly and are sometimes able to reproduce when they are one year old. Most specimens have an average lifespan of around 3 years.

Butterfish are generally 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 centimeters) in length, with some reaching 12 inches (30.5 centimeters). They migrate as the water temperature fluctuates, swimming south and further from land during the colder months, returning north and closer to shore in the summer. Butterfish are often seen in schools of 50 to 100 fish and spend most of their time near the surface of the water, feeding on small fish, annelid worms and crustaceans such as shrimp and krill. They prefer depths less than 180 feet (55 meters) and water temperatures between 40 °F and 74 °F (4.4 °C to 23 °C). Butterfish experience a high mortality rate, and their many natural predators include the hammerhead shark, swordfish, plaice, haddock, and bluefish.

They spawn once a year between June and August, and most egg production takes place in July. Their eggs are transparent and round, with a diameter of 0.7 to 0.8 inches (1.8 to 2 centimeters). They hatch as larvae approximately 0.78 inches (2 millimeters) long. Young butterfish often swim between the tentacles of jellyfish for protection, and sometimes as many as 15 young are protected by a single jellyfish. They seem to have a natural immunity to the toxin in jellyfish tentacles.

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Butterfish have a rounded snout, large eyes, and a forked tail. Their dorsal and anal fins are nearly the same length. They have small, soft scales that come off easily when touched, and their flesh has few bones.

Also known as escobar, sheepshead and dollarfish, butterfish are used both as food for human consumption and as bait for larger fish. It has been commercially fished in the United States since the 19th century. Fish was first used as a fertilizer until people discovered it was good enough to eat.

Its fat content makes the meat moist, tender and delicious. Fish can be purchased fresh, frozen or smoked. It can be baked, poached, grilled or fried in a skillet. This fish is nutritious as well as tasty and provides vitamin B 6 , selenium, potassium and niacin.

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