Footprints in the Sand - Eco Trail
Please leave only your footprints

Offshore Gulf Fish

Offshore fish fall into one of three groups: (1) open water drifters, called planktonic fish, (2) open water swimmers, called pelagic fish, and (3) bottom dwellers, called benthic fish (primarily reef fish in the area).

Planktonic fish are poorer swimmers than the pelagic. As such, they tend to stay near seaweed and drift along with it. These fish are typically bulbous in shape with broad fins.

Pelagic fish tend to be torpedo-shaped with stiff angular fins for efficient swimming. They are usually silver or blue and have good eyesight. Species of pelagic fish found in the Gulf include sharks, manta rays, remoras, cobias/lings, jacks, mahi mahi (dolphin fish), and mackerels.

Benthic fish have the greatest degree of variety, coming in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. Most local benthic animals are reef fish. They include rays and skates, eel, grouper, and snapper.

Jellyfish can also be found both offshore and inshore. The Gulf Coast is home to at least 10 different species of jellyfish, including the Portuguese man o’ war and the sea nettle jellyfish. Jellyfish are some of the oldest creatures on the planet, having roamed the seas for at least 500 million years. As they are invertebrates, jellyfish are not truly fish and are sometimes more correctly referred to as jellies or sea jellies.

Fish Groups - Offshore Gulf Fish


Perhaps the most popular offshore Gulf fish are those belonging to the snapper family. Snappers have long, sloping foreheads and wide mouths, giving them triangular-shaped heads. Smaller snappers primarily feed on crustaceans, while larger ones eat fish. They are not picky eaters, however, and have been known to take a wide variety of bait. Snappers usually move in schools of a dozen fish or less, but lucky anglers or divers may encounter a group of several hundred.


Another popular family of Gulf fish is the grouper. Groupers come in all shapes and sizes, from the diminutive graysby, weighing only a few pounds, to the goliath grouper, tipping the scales at 600 pounds or more. Groupers are oblong, chunky, slow-moving fish. Like some other marine creatures, groupers have the ability to change sex after reaching maturity.

Our Newest Resident—The Red Lionfish

The red lionfish is a reef fish covered in venomous spines. It is originally from Indo-Pacific coral reefs and was first found in the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2010. These invasive, alien fish are now found in high numbers in our waters. They have a voracious appetite, feeding on many of the juvenile benthic fish listed above. Their sting is quite painful to humans, and the pain can last several hours. The red lionfish has no known predators in our area, and its local population is increasing at a somewhat alarming rate.