The Biology of Triggerfish

NORTH CAROLINA FISHERIES

Gray triggerfish are commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to Argentina.  They inhabit ocean hard bottoms, reefs and ledges, especially in near-shore and off-shore locations, either alone or in small groups.

A triggerfish’s body is laterally compressed, with tough leathery skin and two dorsal fins. The fish gets its name from the spines on the dorsal fins. The first dorsal fin has three spines that can be locked into an erect position for use as a defense against predators.

The first spine is very strong.  When threatened, the triggerfish will flee into a tight crevice, wedging itself tightly into place by erecting and locking the first spine. When the second spine is depressed it acts as a trigger, unlocking the first spine.

Triggerfish can weigh up to 13 pounds and grow to approximately 30 inches.  They reach sexual maturity at two years of age and can live as long as 13 years.

Triggerfish feed primarily during daylight on shrimp, crabs, sea urchins, sand dollars, sea stars, sea cucumbers and bivalve mollusks.  Juvenile trigger fish are prey for tuna, dolphinfish, marlin, sailfish and sharks. Amberjack, grouper and sharks are known to prey on adult triggerfish.

Triggerfish are important to commercial and recreational fishermen. The flesh is firm and has a very mild flavor.  It is often consumed fresh, smoked, or dried/salted. It is also highly prized as a show fish in public aquarium facilities.

Gray triggerfish do not appear to be threatened at this time according to the World Conservation Union, a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations that assess the conservation status of marine species.

For more information on gray triggerfish, go to the Florida Museum of Natural History  or the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

Contributed by Barry Nash

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