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Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus)
Also known as: Convict fish, Sheephead, Sheepshead seabream, Southern sheepshead
Source: Wild-caught in Gulf state waters from West Florida to Texas

Sheepshead are found in coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia, through the northern Gulf, and south to Brazil. Larvae hatch offshore in the water column and are transported inshore by currents; as juveniles, they settle in shallow, grassy areas where food is abundant. As juveniles grow, they join adult sheepshead around hard structures such as jetties, oyster reefs, rocks, and pilings, which provide their preferred food supply. Sheepshead mostly live inshore and prefer brackish water, although they can adapt to a wide variety of salinities.

Sheepshead grow fairly quickly, up to nearly 30 inches long and 22 pounds, but commonly range from 14 to 18 inches and one to eight pounds. Sheepshead are able to reproduce at two years of age. In the Gulf, they migrate to offshore waters in late winter and early spring to spawn. They’re very productive—they spawn several times per spawning season and females produce between 1,100 and 250,000 eggs each time they spawn. Sheepshead can live up to at least 20 years.

Sheepshead are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. Larvae feed on zooplankton (microscopic animals). Young sheepshead feed on soft-bodied invertebrates; large juveniles and adults prey on hard-shelled invertebrates including blue crabs, oysters, clams, and barnacles, as well as small fish and vegetation. The sheepshead’s unique teeth allow it to scrape prey such as barnacles from structures and crush shelled organisms. Sharks and other large fish prey on sheepshead.

Members of the sea bream and porgy family, sheepshead are greenish yellow to silver in color and have five to seven black vertical bars running down their sides (the source of their nickname “convict fish”). They have very distinguishable, human-like teeth, with incisors in front, grinders in back, and multiple rows of molars. Their back and belly fins have sharp spines, and their tail fin is slightly forked.

Sheepshead are found throughout the coastal waters of the Gulf. Although they’re not as widely known or valuable as other common Gulf species, they’re delicious, versatile, and even substituted for the prized snapper and other fish on restaurant menus. Commercial fishermen often harvest them to supplement their income from other fisheries and sell most of their sheepshead catch within the Gulf region. While most recreational fishermen don’t target sheepshead, very few will throw them back.

The first records of commercial sheepshead harvests from the Gulf were 778,800 pounds from Texas in 1890. Commercial fisheries for sheepshead steadily increased since then and dramatically expanded in the mid-1980s as commercial trawl fisheries grew, particularly off Louisiana. Harvests peaked in the 1990s at nearly 4.7 million pounds. However, harvests have since declined, likely due to regulatory changes, and have averaged about 1.5 million pounds over the past decade. Today, the Gulf, namely Louisiana, supplies around 80 to 90% of total commercial harvest of sheepshead in the United States.

Individual Gulf state fisheries management agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing the sheepshead resource in the Gulf, as they’re almost exclusively harvested in state waters. The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission helps coordinate monitoring and management among the states to ensure they’re consistent through the species’ range. Although specific management measures vary among the states, their general approach is to maintain the sheepshead resource and prevent overharvest, especially as the popularity of and demand for sheepshead may grow in the future, with reduced abundance or increased regulation of other Gulf species.

Methods Seasons Landings
Commercial Recreational

More than 80% of the sheepshead commercially harvested in the United States comes from the Gulf, namely Louisiana. In 2013, commercial fishermen brought in nearly 1.7 million pounds of sheepshead with revenues of more than $880,000. Nearly 80% of the harvest was landed in Louisiana.

Source: NOAA Fisheries Annual Commercial Landings Statistics

Landings Summary Data :  

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Overview Current Abundance Additional Reasearch

Individual Gulf states assess the status of the sheepshead resource in the Gulf using data from biological sampling and survey programs. They monitor commercial sheepshead harvests through trip ticket programs—docks purchasing sheepshead directly from commercial fishermen submit information pertaining to the catch, including who caught it, where and when it was caught, how much was caught, etc. Commercial fishermen who sell their catch directly to the public are also required to submit trip tickets. The states collect data on recreational harvests through the federal Marine Recreational Information Program survey or state-run data collection programs (in Louisiana and Texas).

Current Abundance

There is no comprehensive Gulf-wide stock assessment for sheepshead. However, according to available state assessments, the sheepshead population is healthy and the limited fisheries for this resource are operating at appropriate levels.

Additional Research


Who's Responsible Management Program
Who's Responsible

Individual Gulf state fisheries management agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing the sheepshead resource in the Gulf, as they’re almost exclusively harvested in state waters. The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission helps coordinate monitoring and management among the states, gathering scientific data and organizing management measures to ensure they’re consistent through the species’ range.

Management Program

Specific management measures vary among the states but are generally consistent and include size and possession limits, gear restrictions, and licensing requirements.