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Fish Facts  »  Permit


The deeply forked tail and elongated anterior dorsal fin provide the more distinct characteristics of the permit. Looking like long sickles, these fins impart the fish's species name falcatus. However, one can also identify the permit by its highly laterally compressed body, making the fish appear thin and tall. From a lateral perspective, the permit shape looks round in juveniles, but becomes oblong as the fish ages into an adult. In addition to the long anterior dorsal fin, inserted directly above an elongated anterior anal fin, permit also possess 17-21 soft dorsal rays, and 16-19 soft anal rays. Permit have bright silver sides and bluish-green or brown backs. The belly will sometimes show yellow or an occasional black splotch. The fins appear dark gray or black.


Permit primarily occupy inshore regions such as flats and sandy beaches, and deeper cuts, channels, and holes adjacent to these areas. The substrate of the flats may vary from sand, mud, marl, or sea grass. Permit often swim in water depths less than 2 feet, though due to large body depth, large individuals cannot occupy waters as shallow as other flats species such as bonefish. In deeper waters up to 30 m, permit often congregate around structures such as reefs, jetties, and wrecks where they frequently occur in large schools.


Permit primarily forage on flats and intertidal areas, entering shallow water on incoming tides from deeper adjacent channels and basins. They usually travel in schools of about ten, but may school in larger numbers; larger permit tend to be more solitary, feeding alone or in pairs. Permit also congregate around wrecks and other deeper-water structures. Like the bonefish, the permit uses its hard mouth to dig into the benthos and root up its prey. These food items usually consist of crustaceans and mollusks, which the permit crushes with its granular teeth and pharyngeal bony plates. However, as opportunistic feeders, permit will eat a variety of animals, including amphipods, copepods, mollusks, polychaetes, fish and insects. Developmentally, permit exhibit planktivorous feeding habits as juveniles, eating copepods, amphipods, mysids, larval shrimp, and fish. As they increase in size, permit begin to feed on benthic prey including mole crabs, coquin clams, flatworms, gastropods, and sessile barnacles. Larger adults feed on gastropods, sea urchins, bivalves, and crabs.


Permit compose an important commercial fishery along with their close relative the Florida pompano. The permit commercial fishery yielded 10.4 metric tons in 2002, down from 68 metric tons in 2000. Florida landings comprised 100 percent of the catch in 2002. Sportfishers consider the permit an important gamefish, and this fish, in addition to the bonefish and tarpon, supports a large charterboat fishing industry. Many anglers regard the permit as one of the most difficult gamefish to catch, and consider a permit caught on fly the highlight of their angling achievements. Many fishing guides and anglers highly esteem the permit and release the fish unharmed. Most mortality attributed to human activity while sportfishing occurs from injuries incurred when being landed, such as "gut hooking" or sharks that take advantage of the hooked fish. Though conscientious anglers attempt to break the line, thereby releasing the permit from restraint when a shark is sighted, sharks occasionally leave the angler with only half a fish.


Permit reach a maximum length of at least 48 inches (122 cm) and a weight of 79 pounds (36 kg). They grow rapidly until an age of 5 years, at which point growth slows considerably. Permit reach sexual maturity at about 2.3 years for males, and 3.1 years for females. Their size at sexual maturity ranges from 19.1 inches (486 mm) for males and 21.5 inches (547 mm) for females.


Permit inhabit the western Atlantic from Massachusetts to southeastern Brazil. They occur throughout the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico, and less-frequently in Bermuda. The species has been reported in the eastern Atlantic, but does not regularly occur there. The species is most abundant in southern Florida.


Florida Museum of Natural History

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