This popular sport fish is often confused with a smaller
look-alike, the Florida pompano.
Permit (Trachinotus falcatus) is a fish with an
identity crisis. Because it appears strikingly similar to the
Florida pompano, many anglers mistake it for that more popular,
commercially marketed fish. Even scientists have gathered little
in-depth information on permit. However, among those in the know,
the species has carved out a niche as a popular sport fish and
prime table fare.
Related Article: Permit and Florida Pompano
To distinguish adult permit from pompano, one need only remember
the saying "Size matters." Permit can grow to more than double the
length of pompano and several times the weight. A 15- to 20-pound
permit is a common sight, and the fish can easily exceed 3 feet in
length. At smaller sizes, the distinction between the two species
might not be as obvious. However, a good rule of thumb is a simple
color check: Small permit have orange patches on their chins, fins,
or bellies; pompano have yellow coloring in those areas.
Permit can live long lives. In a study of specimens from Tampa
Bay and the Florida Keys, a 3-foot permit was aged at 23 years.
Because this species can grow about an additional foot, researchers
believe its life span may be even longer.
For a permit in Florida, life typically begins in spring or
summer, though spawning in the Keys may occur year-round. Permit
are multiple-batch spawners, meaning one fish can produce and shed
eggs more than once a season. Reproduction typically takes place
offshore over reefs 33 to 100 feet deep.
Permit grow out of the larval stage and settle in their nursery
habitat within 15 to 20 days of hatching. A study in the
Florida Keys found newly settled juveniles (less than 1 inch in
standard length and less than 1 month old) along windward beaches
in every month but July. Over the next two to three years of their
lives, permit reach sexual maturity and, at an estimated 22 inches
for females and 19.4 inches for males, about half of their
Permit frequent offshore wrecks, oil platforms, and artificial
reefs, as well as grass and sand flats, deep channels, and holes
inshore. Tagging studies are under way to track their movements and
migrations in Florida waters. Researchers hope to learn whether a
permit's life journey connects these various habitats. If you
are interested in volunteering to tag the permit you catch and
release, refer to the article "Tag a Permit for Research Gains" for information
about how to request a tagging kit.
The population size of permit is something of a mystery, as the
last stock assessment of the fish was in 1996. Nevertheless,
recreational anglers and commercial fishers know where to find
The flats in South Florida are famous for permit fishing, though
researchers have recorded permit landings throughout the coastal
counties, mostly by sport fishers. The recreational fishery
accounted for 87% of the landings of permit statewide in 2008, or
nearly 118,000 pounds--about 100,000 pounds more than the
commercial fishery. Even so, the combined commercial and
recreational landings, 135,451 pounds, constituted a small fishery
relative to its "mistaken twin," the pompano, at 932,797 pounds
that same year.
On the flats, permit are a more challenging catch than bonefish,
tarpon, or any other sport fish that inhabits the area, according
to Keys fishing guides. The prime season coincides more or less
with spawning season, from April to October, but some permit are
reeled in year-round. To catch the fish, anglers can keep their
artificial lures in the tackle box. Permit typically respond to
live bait, the top choice being crabs--which, along with mollusks,
make up their regular diet. On rare occasions, a patient and
persistent fly fisher may land a permit.
Before heading out to fish for permit, always refer to the
saltwater fishing regulations.