Species Spotlight: Greater Amberjack
Daily Bag Limit: 1 per person
Minimum Size Limit: 34” fork length
Size: Current world record is 156 pounds, but rumors of specimens over 200 pounds do pop up from time to time.
Preferred Water Temperature: Amberjack prefer temps above 70 degrees but have been recorded in temps as low as 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They are also intolerant of temps over 80 and will tend to move to deeper/cooler zones when waters get too warm.
Conservation Status: Not considered endangered, but conservation efforts and rules limit the size and numbers taken.
Similar Species: Almaco jack are often mistaken for small amberjack. On the Pacific side of the U.S. and in the southern Pacific Ocean around Australia and New Zealand, the yellowtail (Seriola dorsalis) is a popular relative that looks similar to the amberjack, but with slightly different coloration.
Food Value: Amberjack popularity varies in different areas of the world. Some people consider it a delicacy, other regions go as far as calling it inedible. Amberjack have been known to occasionally carry the highly infectious ciguatera bacteria and can make people extremely ill if ingested. As a general rule, caution is warranted when eating amberjack.
Appearance: Coloration of amberjack can depend greatly on the local environment; specimens commonly appear with a dark back and an “amber” horizontal stripe that intersects the eye near the head. From there though, color can vary from having a bright silver underbelly to a dark brown tone over the entire body.
Range: Amberjack are relatively common in most sub-tropical to tropical seas, including throughout Florida. They are generally found around structure such as wrecks and reefs. This, combined with their extreme strength, has given them the nickname “reef donkeys”.
Hot Spots: Amberjack are opportunistic predators and can be aggressive feeders when food is scarce. Small- to medium-sized amberjack are often found suspended in schools over structure. Over time, as they mature, they tend to become more independent, with the largest specimens generally being found roaming solo or in very small groups of several individuals.
Predators: Immature amberjack are often preyed on by seabirds and pelagic predators such as tuna, wahoo and other larger fish. As they get larger, the ability to be preyed on diminishes. Humans are really the only predator of full-grown specimens.
Reproduction: Amberjack are gonochoric, meaning they do not display any form of sexual dimorphism like some other fish species. So, they are male or female from birth and don’t change at any point in their life cycle. Amberjack have been known to display courtship behavior and often pair up for mating after gathering in large groups. This often occurs during the full moon or just after. Sexual maturity comes quickly with males and females are generally fertile after attaining 28 inches in length. They are prolific reproducers with females laying anywhere from 20-50 million eggs in one mating cycle. Amberjack mature quickly, developing into active juveniles within two days of birth. They can live as long as 17 years and grow to well over 100 pounds.
Fishing Methods: Amberjack are generally targeted using live bait or big jigs over reef, wrecks or other forms of structure. Bigger models can be tough to land as they have a propensity to “rock” the angler at the slightest hint of pressure. To elaborate, these fish are extremely powerful and tend to bolt for cover when hooked. Their immense size and power make them very difficult to stop; once they get into the rocks or wreck, it can be virtually impossible to successfully extract them. In these situations, the end result is generally a broken line that gets serrated on the sharp-edged structure.