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What is a Pigfish?

Donn Saylor
Donn Saylor

Pigfish are members of the grunt family of fish and live predominantly in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the southern United States. They are plentiful in number and possess a colorful appearance. There are several types of fish that fall under the name pigfish; these include the golden-spot hogfish, the red pigfish, and the redmouth grunt.

All pigfish belong to the Congiopodidae class, a group of ray-finned fish that thrive in shallow, mild waters. Though they are edible to humans, pigfish are primarily utilized as bait. Most larger fish will readily consume pigfish when used as live bait — the sea trout is particularly fond of them.


The upper portion of the pigfish has a bluish tint, while the lower section is silver. They sport uneven stripes across the head and snout. Their scales are also colorful, with blue midpoints and orange or reddish-brown shades around the outer edges. They can grow to be nearly a foot (.3 meters) in length and generally weigh a pound (.45 kilograms) or less. Pigfish are commonly mistaken for pinfish.

Adult pigfish typically spawn during the spring in large bodies of water. As the young fish mature, both the adults and their offspring retreat to more shallow waters closer to land. They are especially drawn to areas with gently sloping floors, and they tend to prefer environments with grassy regions or sandbars.

Pigfish are attracted to several different types of bait. Bloodworms, clams, crabs, and squid are a few of their favorites. They also prefer shrimp, most notably when it is peeled and used by anglers fishing from docks, piers, or bridges.

When pigfish are caught, they emit a grunting or snorting noise, which is likely the source of their name. Pigfish possess teeth in their throats, and by grinding these together, a grunting sound is produced. Though this cry is a natural reflex on the part of the pigfish, it is also an inadvertent message to other fish in the area that a pigfish is nearby. Given their role as an excellent source of bait, this doesn't bode well for the pigfish but is ideal for fishermen looking to make a good catch.

Pigfish are most predominant along the Atlantic coast, from Florida as far north as New York. The waters off North and South Carolina are favorite spots for the pigfish. They are also abundant in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly near the Texas coast.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a pigfish and where can it be found?

A pigfish, scientifically known as Orthopristis chrysoptera, is a small, colorful member of the grunt family found in the western Atlantic Ocean. They inhabit coastal waters, particularly around reefs and seagrass beds from New York to the Gulf of Mexico, providing a vital role in the marine ecosystem by consuming various invertebrates.

Why is it called a pigfish?

The pigfish gets its name from the distinctive grunting sound it produces, which is reminiscent of a pig's oink. This sound is created by the grinding of their pharyngeal teeth and amplified by their swim bladder, serving as a form of communication among individuals, especially during spawning season.

What does a pigfish eat?

Pigfish are opportunistic feeders, primarily dining on small crustaceans, mollusks, and worms. Their diet reflects their role as benthic foragers, meaning they search for food along the ocean floor. This feeding behavior helps to control populations of their prey, maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

How do pigfish contribute to their ecosystem?

Pigfish play a crucial ecological role by controlling invertebrate populations, which can otherwise grow unchecked and potentially harm their habitat. Additionally, they serve as prey for larger predatory fish, thus being an integral part of the food web. Their presence indicates a healthy, biodiverse marine environment.

Can pigfish be kept in aquariums?

While pigfish are not commonly kept as aquarium pets, they can be housed in large marine tanks that replicate their natural habitat. Prospective owners should provide ample space, hiding places, and a diet rich in live or frozen invertebrates to ensure their well-being in a captive environment.

Are pigfish targeted by commercial fisheries?

Pigfish are not typically the main target of commercial fisheries, but they are often caught as bycatch in shrimp trawls and other fishing operations. Recreational anglers also catch pigfish, sometimes using them as live bait for larger game fish due to their hardiness and the attractive sound they produce underwater.

Discussion Comments


Actually, I eat pigfish on a regular basis. They are not that different from a spot or croaker.


Wow. I live in North Carolina, although I am not from here, nor do I live on the coast, and I have not heard of a pigfish, until now.

That is interesting that the pigfish love to hang out in North and South Carolina. I wonder why that is.

Also, it is very interesting that pigfish make any noise at all, let alone a grunting/snorting sound when caught. I want to see and hear a pigfish someday.


It's amazing how many different varieties of fish there are. But they've had many millions of years to evolve in so many different ways.

I wonder how loud the grunting sound is that they make when they are caught. It must sound funny, as almost all fish are so silent.

The article says that they are good for using as bait to catch a wide variety of fish. I wonder if they are good for human consumption.

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