When you hook into a bonito, you might be wondering what it is on the end of your line. Surprisingly, the beautiful bonito, often considered a trash fish, is an exceptional fighting fish and loves to have its photo taken. They are edible and many consider them superior meat, but more Floridians find the dark, bloody meat too much to handle. While deep sea fishing at Cocoa Beach it is likely that you will catch a bonito. We use bonito as shark bait or strip up the bellies for trolling.
Bonito travel in large schools sometimes a half-mile square. Most anglers catch Bonito while fishing for kingfish. Bonito will hit on any bait if they are in the area. This fish is fun once hooked because it puts on an aggressive, furious fight.
Taxonomy and Habits
Atlantic bonito belong to a group that has the dorsal fins very near or separated by a narrow interspace. Its body is wholly scaled, with those scales in the pectoral fin area and the lateral line usually larger. Bonitos (fishes in the genus Sarda) differ from tuna by their compressed bodies, their lack of teeth on the roof of the mouth, and specific differences in coloration.
Atlantic bonito share Atlantic waters with the striped bonito, Sarda orientalis (the Atlantic population, sometimes considered a separate species, Sarda Velox). The striped bonito has been taken on the Atlantic coast as far north as Cape Cod. It is similar in its habits but somewhat smaller than the more common Atlantic bonito. The Atlantic bonito can be distinguished from its relative by its dark oblique stripes on the back and with a maxillary only about half as long as the head, whereas the striped bonito has striping on its topside nearly horizontal and a maxillary more than half the length of the head.
Same Fish, Different Name
The little tunny, is found in the neritic waters of the temperate and tropical zones in the Atlantic ocean. It can also be found in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. In the eastern Atlantic, the little tunny is from Skagerrak to South Africa. Although found in this broad range of latitudes, it is rare north of the Iberian Peninsula or farther south than Brazil. On the Atlantic coast of the United States, they can be caught as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and as far south as the tip of Florida, as well as throughout the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The little tunny’s habitat tends to be near-shore waters, much closer to shore than most other tunas. They live in and around inlets, points, jetties, and sandbars. All of these places are where bait fish like sardine and menhaden, both favorites of the little tunny, form large schools, which are very helpful to the little tunny’s feeding style. While the little tunny is abundant in offshore ocean waters, it is unusual to find it in the brackish water of estuaries. The very young will enter estuaries in South Africa. The little tunny prefers relatively warm water, from 24° to 30° Celsius. The little tunny migrates south in the winter and fall, and northward in the spring, through coastal waters. It is not as migratory as other tuna species.
The little tunny is typically a schooling species. It lives in schools based primarily on fish size rather than species, so other members of the Scombridae family, like the Atlantic bonito, may be present. These schools cover areas up to 3.2 kilometers long. Little tunny that has not yet reached adulthood form tight schools offshore. While large schools of bonito are more common offshore; smaller groups may wander farther inshore.
Are Bonito edible? The Bonito is in the Tuna family and is not commonly eaten in Florida due to its size and dark meat. You can identify the Bonito called False Albacore or Little Tunny by its spots on the belly (not visible in this picture but there), and they do not have stripes but a wavey blue and silver pattern on their tops. This Bonito is similar to the Atlantic Bonito in structure and is often misidentified. The Atlantic Bonito is from the Mackerel family and is not palatable whereas the Little Tunny Bonito is excellent for eating because it’s from the Tuna family. The bloody red meat of this Bonito must bleed out in ice water for hours, and the thick bloodline removed before cooking it like any other Tuna.
Bonito feed on herrings, menhaden, hake, mackerels, anchovies, shrimp, and squid. Bonito is a favorite bait for Billfish, Kingfish, and Sharks used by tournament anglers who go out the day before the big day and catch Bonito offshore for live bait during their tourney.
Atlantic bonito grow up to 75 centimeters (30 in) and weigh 5 to 6 kilograms (11 to 13 lb) at this size. The world record, 18 pounds 4 ounces (8.3 kg), was caught in the Azores.
Of the thousands of fish species found in Florida waters, the vast majority have no specific regulations at all. These unregulated species include some prevalent sports fish that are commonly caught by recreational anglers such as white grunt, gulf kingfish (whiting), gaff top sail catfish, ladyfish, cero mackerel, blackfin tuna, bonito, great barracuda, gulf kingfish, pinfish and jack crevalle. The list also includes thousands of other species that are less frequently targeted but sometimes caught incidentally including spadefish, American eels, silver perch, croakers, hardhead catfish and many others. The term unregulated can be misleading because standard recreational gear requirements still apply, and there is a default bag limit established by Florida Statute for any species harvested by a recreational angler. Harvesting amounts that exceed the default recreational bag limit (defined as commercial quantities) and commercial sale of all unregulated species would require a saltwater products license. Florida Bonito Regulations