A Permit by Any Other Name

A Permit by any other name is probably way, way less valuable.

I’ve been going to the California Academy of Sciences for a few years now.  Located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, it is packed with aquatic life. Penguins to Sea Bass to  Electric Eels, this place has it all (including an adult tarpon). From the very first trip I was particularly drawn to a little exhibit just in the front door to the left with black tip reef sharks, rays, some baby tarpon and pompano.  This is a tank you stand above and look down into, since the water in only about two feet deep.  There were three baby tarpon and then two and then one and now they are no more.  Seems the black tips got hungry at night and ate them.  Oops. I still wonder why they were left in the tank after the first one got munched, but, that’s a different question.

I love seeing the pompano in the exhibit since they look a lot like permit and I’ve actually caught pompano down in Mexico. I’ve caught exactly 1 permit and only cast at a half-dozen or so.  Over the years those pompano have gotten bigger and bigger and now, they look incredibly like permit and I’d swear they were permit, if not for the yellow, where there should be black.

I submitted a comment card and actually asked what species of fish these were.   The director of the Steinhart Aquarium (part of the CAS) told me they were Trachinotus blochii, aslo called the Snubnose Pompano

Photo by J.E. Randall

The thing that has kind of been bugging me is how much those fish look like what I’ve seen called “Indo-Pacific Permit.”

At fishbase.org there is no fish called the Indo-Pacifi Permit (or Indopacific Permit or Indo Pacific Permit). That would seem a pretty glaring omission.

If I look at a picture labeled “Indo-Pacific Permit,” well, I’m starting to see a Snubnose Pompano.

“Indo-Pacific Permit”

I need to add here that I could be wrong. I’m not an icythyologist by any stretch.   However, I don’t see anything scientific about Indo-Pacific Permit anywhere.  Permit and Pompano are closely related, so it isn’t that much of a stretch.  Jacks, trevally, pompano and permit are all related, which makes them one hell of a hard-pulling family.

I think it is an interesting insight that we need to (if I’m right) re-invent a fish to make it something worth chasing.  How many anglers would fly thousands of miles to catch a pompano?  It is pretty well known that anglers will fly thousands of miles to catch permit (and drop a few grand in the process). Why can’t a Snubnose Pompano be worth pursuing on its own?  It looks a very worthy target.

Anyone have any insight into the Indo-Pacific Permit and if I’m right on this one?

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  1. Hi Bjorn,
    I think you are perfectly right on this one.
    The Indo-pacific ones caught in Australia and the Seychelles are also referred to as “Snubnose dart” or “Snubnose pompano”…
    If the direcotor is right on the latin name, I think the question is more how this one ended up in California?
    If you’ve ever seen the movie/trailer called “Heads or tails”, I’m pretty sure that is exactly the same species they are hunting.

    You bet I would fly some thousands miles to catch one 🙂

  2. Btw, I’ve caught some “Pompanos” too down in Los Roques…
    The latin name for these guys are “Trachinotus goodei”. I dont think they grow as large as their snubnosed cousins 🙂

  3. have a look at a table fish in India which looks a lot like a permit and is called pomfret. Never caught one, nor even tried, but they are delicious.

  4. I was in Seattle’s Pike Place Market about a year ago and was shocked to see a large ice filled bin packed with what I thought were baby permit. The sign on the bin said “Pompano”. At the time I thought that someone had developed an alternative name for permit to make it OK to catch them commercially. Based on this post, I am now thinking that they may be the same basic species.

  5. bonefishbjorn

    I’ll bet I would fly pretty far to catch one. The seem a worthy game fish, no matter what they are called!

    The ones at the CAS are not FROM California, they are just in the aquarium, along with a great number of species that aren’t found in CA Waters.

  6. Pompano are a fly rod target on the east coast of Florida and swim the waters of Georgia. I had a charter last week and my clients found some young pompano in the surf of Wassaw Island. I have yet to catch one but then I have not tried too hard…..yet. I always think a fish that will take a fly is worth pursuing. A tug is always good.

  7. bonefishbjorn

    The tug is the drug… as they say.

  8. What the Captain said, “I always think a fish that will take a fly is worth pursuing.”

  9. Bjorn what you have seen in Mexico is NOT a Trachinotus Blochii. Mexico is half was across the world from the furthest recorded movement of a Trachinotus Blochii… Here is a range map: http://www.aquamaps.org/receive.php

    Im guessing what you saw was this http://www.samyoungcharters.com/images/Pompano.jpg or http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3218/2821159740_80f7315a54_m.jpg
    we call those guys Southern Pompano and you’ll catch one every cast on a clouser. Try that with a Blochii or Falcatus. To date no Trachinotus Blochii has been found in the Atlantic. -an obvious mistake on the aquarium guys part.

    @Lars the fish in the second picture is not what we refer to as a Permit in the Indian Ocean. That is an Oyster Pompano or “Oyster Cracker” as the aussies call it. It has a different scientific name – Trachinotus Anak. Google that and you’ll pick up the differences. To date a Snubnose (Blochii) and Oyster pompano hasnt been caught in the same area.

    What has become to be known as the “Indian Ocean Permit” is Trachintus Blochii or the Snubnose pompano or Pumkin Pompano. However, it is thought that the Seychelles “Permit” are a mix between Trachinotus Mokalee (Indian Pompano) and Blochii as they share a common range. They are equally spooky, less dense in population and just as fussy. The difficulty comes in as you wont find operations set up to specifically target them like you do in the Yucatan, Cuba, etc. There are places like Poivre where you will see them and manage to be guided in areas where they are seen but as the Seychelles guides will tell you. “You will need 20 perfect shots to get one to have a look. And then good luck getting the one thats looking to bite.”

    Bjorn with reference to that opening sentence- If you had to use the “what is a bonefish worth” program formula and work it back you would find these fish worth much more. Take the amount of anglers fishing for them, add those tourism dollars up and divide that by the amount of fish brought to hand by fly anglers. The number per fish will be far higher due the limited success in targeting.

    It is very important to note that a Permit isnt its own species. A Permit is a member of the Pompano family as is the Snubnose Pompano, African Pompano, Wave Pompano, Southern Pomano, etc. The name “permit” was coined when the sport fishery first took off and guides in Latin America called them by the common grouping name for all of the fish of this body shape…. Palometa. By the time that name made it back to the states the mis-translation spawned the name “Permit”. As a result the nick-name permit is only a few decades old. Interestingly, the scientific name Falcatus was first given to the Blochii gene as the specie was first recorded off India and at that point no genetic difference could be found other than colour and outright size. Same scale count, ratios, etc. The fish were then later studied in the Atlantic where research was denser, thus only these fish inherited “Trachinotus Falcatus”.

  10. yeah, I know what I caught in Mexico wasn’t a snubnose pompano. I did get a pompano, just not that species.

    Excellent response and thank you for all that information.

    The bit about what a Permit is worth is not meant to diminish the value of the fish. I think it looks like a fantastic fish to catch on a fly and I’d love to do it. I just think it is odd that the name had to be tweaked to make people take notice (or at least that is what I am taking away).

  11. What I caught in Mexico was a Gafftopsail Pompano (Trachinotus rhodopus). http://www.fishbase.org/summary/Trachinotus-rhodopus.html

  12. If it pulls hard what does it matter what its called !!!!!!!

  13. Hi Peter,
    Thanks for the detailed explanation 🙂 There seems to be more it…
    Btw, How did you get all this insight?

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