Trachinotus falcatus - Permit

Schooling Premit. Photo © Doug Perrine

Trachinotus falcatus

This very tall, flat fish is most distinctive for its elongated dorsal and anal fins, and its deeply forked tail. It also has a series of dorsal rays, which give it its name "rough back". These schooling fish hunt their prey inshore on sandy sea grass flats, but as they get older, they become more solitary. They are popular with sportsfishers because the fish can grow to 48 inches long and are challenging to catch.

Order - Perciformes
Family - Carangidae
Genus - Trachinotus
Species - falcatus

Common Names

Autiranon (Palicur), blå taggmakrell (Norwegian), blå taggmakrill (Swedish), carangue á plumes (French), carangue plume (French), cobbler (English), fausse karang (Creole, French), palometa (Spanish), pampanillo (Spanish), pampanito (Spanish), pampano (Tagalog), pámpano (Spanish), pámpano de bandera (Spanish), pampano erizero (Spanish), pampano palometa (Spanish), pámpano palometa (Spanish), permit fish (English), pompaneau plume (French), round pompano (English), sereia-de-pluma (Portuguese), sernambiguara (Portuguese), sernambiquara (Portuguese), sierpnik okragly (Polish), sinipompano (Finnish).

Importance to Humans

Permit predators, people

A happy permit angler! This fish was released to fight another day. Image © Sean Morey

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. In response to possible overfishing, the Florida Wildlife Commission recently raised minimum size limits and decreased bag limits (see Conservation below). Originally interested in the related Florida pompano, fish farmers have only recently begun to experiment with the mariculture of permit, raising them in large near-shore pens for commercial sale.

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.

Danger to Humans

Permit predators, sharks

Lemon shark on grass flats where permit feed. Photo © Doug Perrine

Permit pose no threat to humans, though ciguatera poisoning may result if eaten.

Conservation Status

After recent surveys in 2003, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission changed the Florida size and bag limits for permit, effective January 1, 2004. The FWC raised the minimum size limit from 10 inches to 11 inches for all fishermen (commercial and recreational), and decreased the recreational aggregate bag limit of permit and Florida pompano from 10 fish to 6 fish per person per day. The upper size limit remains at 20 inches, but with a provision that allows anglers to retain one fish over 20 inches in their daily bag limit. These changes are designed to allow more permit to reach sexual maturity and reduce overall landings.

Though susceptible to overfishing, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) does not currently list the permit as an endangered or vulnerable species. The IUCN (a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations in a partnership) assesses the conservation status of species.

Geographical Distribution

Trachinotus falcatus - Permit, Map

World distribution map for the permit

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.


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.


Trachinotus falcatus - Permit

Trachinotus falcatus. Photo © John Soward

Distinctive Features
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 have no teeth other than granular teeth that occur on the tongue, designed for crushing mollusks and crustaceans. The teeth are most conspicuous in younger fish.

Trachinotus falcatus - Permit

Body of permit. Photo © George H. Burgess

Trachinotus falcatus - Permit

Closeup of head. Photo © George H. Burgess

Trachinotus falcatus - Permit

Detail of rays before the elongated dorsal fin. These rays inform the genus name Falcatus, Greek for "rough back.". Photo © George H. Burgess

Size, Age & Growth
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 can attain an age of 23 years, though they probably live longer. Other carangids, such as the Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) and the white trevally (Pseudocaranx dentex), are known to reach ages of 7 and 49 years, respectively.

Food Habits

Permit prey, crabs

Larger adults feed on prey such as this blue crab. Photo courtesy NOAA

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.

Trachinotus falcatus - Permit

Schooling permit. Photo © Doug Perrine

Permit spawning may last all year, but occurs primarily from May through June in the Florida Keys. Spawning peaks during these summer months, with extended spawning seasons occurring outside this main period and a decrease in spawning activity during the winter months. Researchers have found that permit may spawn over natural and artificial reefs or in nearshore waters in the middle and lower Florida Keys. Males reach sexual maturity earlier than females, 2.3 versus 3.1 years, and at respective sizes of 19.1 inches (486 mm) and 21.5 inches (547 mm).

The primary predators of permit include most large piscivores, such as sharks and barracuda. Bull, lemon, and hammerhead sharks often venture onto the flats to hunt for feeding permit. Anglers often report that, while fighting a permit on the line, these shark species will tear their prized-for sportfish in half, leaving the angler with only the head.

Permit predator, sharks

Bull shark. Photo © Doug Perrine

Permit predators, Barracuda

Barracuda. Photo © Keri Wilk

Permit suffer from many parasites, including the branchial parasite Bicotylophora baeri, the intestinal parasiteSerrasentis socialis, and trematodes from the genus Lobatostoma. When cultured together in fish farms, permit may become susceptible to bacteria such as Vibrio anguillarum and the dinoflagellate Amyloodinium ocellatum. The latter infests the skin and gills of the host, eventually causing death through toxins or by interfering with respiration.


Carolus Linnaeus originally described the permit in 1758, classifying it within the jack family carangidae. He initially named it Labrus falcatus, but later taxonomists reclassified the permit within the genus Trachinotus, grouping it with similar species such as the Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus), the palometa (Trachinotus goodei), and the blackblotch pompano (Trachinotus kennedyi). Though the permit has been confused as all of these fish, Trachinotus falcatus serves as the only valid scientific name for the species. Falcatus, a Latin adjective that translates to "armed with scythes," appropriately describes the large sickle-shaped dorsal fin that breaches the surface when permit feed.

Prepared by: Sean Morey