Identification & Biology: The Spot croaker (Leiostomus xanthurus) or Spot is a small saltwater fish. It is part of the family Sciaendae (Drums or croakers) and the only species in the genus Leiostomus… and in the order of Perciformes (perch-likes). The Spot derives its name from the prominent dark spot behind each gill, a mark which legend holds came from the fingers of St. Peter, the renowned biblical fisherman. It is also known for the croaking sound it produces using its swim bladder. The swim bladder of the Spot croaker is used as a resonating chamber, which is more expansive and branched than the swim bladder of a fish not in the Sciaenidae family.
Range & Habitat: The species inhabits estuary and coastal waters along the eastern coast of the United States, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. They are frequently caught by recreational anglers and make excellent table fare. The community of Hampstead, North Carolina hosts the North Carolina Spot Festival the last weekend of September to honor the Spot croaker. The Spot is most commonly found between the Chesapeake Bay and South Carolina, and inhabit coastal areas that are no deeper than 60m. Spot are available in the Chesapeake Bay from late April through early November. During the summer months Spot inhabit shallower bays and estuaries and move out into the coastal waters during the winter months as the temperature drops… the northern populations also migrate south for the winter until the water warms up again.
The primary nursery areas for juvenile spot occur in low salinity areas of bays and tidal creeks, but they can also be found associated with eelgrass communities. Spot often congregate over oyster beds. It is an opportunistic bottom feeder… primarily eating worms, small crustations and mollusks. Spot are an important food source for other fish species including striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, shark and flounder. The bulk of commercially caught spot are harvested by day boats with haul seines, gill nets and pound nets.
Market Description: Spot rarely reach over a pound in size and approximately 7 inches in length. Maximum length of spot is 14 inches. Because of its size it is rarely seen filleted. Spot is generally available whole, dressed, fresh, and occasionally frozen. It has a medium-dense, lean, light meat with a light mild-to-moderate flavor.
Flavor Profile: small flake, earthy sweet flavor
Special Note: Travel in schools
Suitable Sub: Croaker
Recommended Preparation: The light flavor of the Spot allows it to substitute easily for a wide variety of fish, including rainbow trout, mullet, or croaker among others. The Spot is considered Virginia’s number one panfish.