Species Description: The permit, Trachinotus falcatus, is a large species belonging to the jack family, Carangidae. Characteristics of this family are extremely variable, but most species are silvery in color with deeply forked caudal fins (Robins et al. 1986; Smith-Vaniz 2002). The body of T. falcatus is short, deep and compressed with a sloping head that terminates in a blunt snout. (Smith-Vaniz 2002). The upper jaw is narrow and ends beneath the midline of the small eyes. Jaws bear a series of small, conical teeth that curve slightly backward. Overall coloration is silvery with a bluish gray to blue-green tint on the upper third of the body and head. Some fish are marked with a dark oval spot near the pectoral fin, and juveniles are capable of altering their color from black to silver with dark red to bright orange anal and pelvic fins. Usual fin ray counts are as follows: dorsal fin = 5 short spines, followed by 1 spine and 17-21 soft rays (usually 18-20); anal fin = 2 separate short spines, followed by 1 spine and 16-19 soft rays (Robins et al. 1986; Smith-Vaniz 2002).
Potentially Misidentified Species: Two other species of Trachinotus occur along the east coast of Florida, the Florida pompano, T. carolinus, and the palometa, T. goodei. The Florida pompano is similar to the permit, but with a shallower body profile (Robins et al. 1986). Usual fin ray counts are 22-27 and 20-24 for the dorsal and anal fin, respectively (Smith-Vaniz 2002). In the palometa, the front lobes of the dorsal and anal fins are blackish and very elongate, leading edges of the caudal fin are elongate, and the body is marked with a series of 4-5 narrow bars (Robins et al. 1986).
Regional Occurrence: The range of T. falcatus extends from Massachusetts to southern Florida, through the Bahamas and Caribbean south to Brazil (Robins et al. 1986; Smith-Vaniz 2002). Small schools and solitary individuals are found in a variety of coastal habitats, from brackish estuaries to nearshore and coral reefs.
IRL Distribution: Little information is available concerning the distribution of the permit in the IRL, but the species can be found throughout the lagoon. Juveniles are common in sheltered seagrass beds, among mangrove roots and along beaches, while adults frequent tidal flats around inlets, nearshore and coral reefs, and offshore waters during spawning season (Adams et al. 2006; Félix et al. 2007) (see 'Reproduction').
Age, Size, Lifespan: The maximum reported length for T. falcatus is 110 cm, though individuals measuring up to 90 cm are more common (Crabtree et al. 2002). Examination of the otoliths (ear bones) in some Florida populations revealed individuals up to 23 years of age, with most between 10 and 15 years (Crabtree et al. 2002). Crabtree et al. (2002) also found that sexual maturity is generally reached after 2-3 years at a size of 40-50 cm.
Abundance: Although abundance estimates for populations in the IRL are scarce, the permit is considered a common game fish in Florida waters.
Reproduction & Embryology: Permit spawn seasonally in Florida from May through July, which is possibly extended in some locations (Crabtree et al. 2002). Adults move offshore, where they form large aggregations of 250-500 individuals, spawning at sunset approximately one week after a full moon (Graham & Castellanos 2005). Fertilization occurs in the water column and leads to planktonic larvae, which are transported toward the coast and metamorphose into juveniles in coastal habitats and sheltered estuaries.
Temperature & Salinity: Little information is available concerning the physical tolerances of T. falcatus. However, its natural range encompasses marine and estuarine habitats in warm temperate to tropical climate zones. This pattern of distribution suggests that permit populations prefer and/or require warm, saline waters in order to thrive.
Trophic Mode: Juvenile and adult permit feed on a variety of benthic invertebrates, including: longspine starsnails, Astralium phoebium; cerith snails of the genus Cerithium; West Indian dovesnails, Columbella mercatoria; olive snails of the genus Oliva; queen conchs, Aliger gigas; West Indian tegula, Tegula lividomaculata; chestnut turbans, Turbo castanea; long-spined sea urchins, Diadema antillarium; urchins of the genus Echinometra; turkey wings, Arca zebra; decussate bittersweets, Glycymeris decussata; magnum pricklycockles, Trachycardium magnum; hermit crabs, Paguristes grayi; surf mole crabs, Albunea gibbesii; and porcelain crabs (Randall 1967).
Predators: Little information is available concerning the predators of T. falcatus. However, small juveniles are probably consumed by a variety of fishes and crustaceans, while sharks, alligators and birds of prey likely feed on larger juveniles and adults.
Associated Species: Although there are no obligate associations documented between the permit and other species, T. falcatus is commonly found alongside other organisms from the various coastal marine and estuarine habitats in which it resides.
Economic & Ecological Importance: Although less popular than the related Florida pompano, T. falcatus is widely consumed and the basis of an important recreational and a small commercial fishery in Florida waters (e.g. Crabtree et al. 2002). Although estimates are unverified, surveys suggest that recreational landings may exceed 100,000 fish annually (Armstrong et al. 1996). Commercial catch peaked in 1991 at 200,000 pounds, while catch for 2009 totaled less than 17,000 pounds (Armstrong et al. 1996; FWCC 2010b). Current Florida recreational fishing regulations for permit and pompano allow the collection of up to six individuals of either species per person per day, 11-20 inches in length and only two per vessel exceeding 20 inches. Fish are to be caught with hook and line only - gigging, spearing and snatching are prohibited (FWCC 2010a).
References: Adams, AJ, Wolfe, RK, Kellison, GT & BC Victor. 2006. Patterns of juvenile habitat use and seasonality of settlement by permit, Trachinotus falcatus. Environ. Biol. Fish. 75: 209-217.
Crabtree, RE, Hood, PB & D Snodgrass. 2002. Age, growth, and reproduction of permit (Trachinotus falcatus) in Florida waters. Fish. Bull. 100: 26-34.
Félix, FC, Spach, HL, Moro, PS, Schwarz Jr., R, Santos, C, Hackradt, CW & M Hostim-Silva. 2007. Utilization patterns of surf zone inhabiting fish from beaches in Southern Brazil. Pan-Amer. J. Aquat. Sci. 2: 27-39.
FWCC. 2010a. Florida Saltwater Fishing Regulations. Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/.
FWCC. 2010b. Marine Fisheries Information System 2009 Annual Landings Summary. Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Online at http://myfwc.com/media/1540843/sumstate_09.pdf.
Graham, RT & DW Castellanos. 2005. Courtship and spawning behaviors of carangid species in Belize. Fish. Bull. 103: 426-432.
Randall, JE. 1967. Food habits of reef fishes of the West Indies. Stud. Trop. Oceanogr. 5: 665-847.
Robins CR, Ray GC, and J Douglas. 1986. A Field Guide to Atlantic Coast Fishes. The Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 354 pp.
Smith-Vaniz WF. 2002. Carangidae. pp. 1426-1466. In: The living marine resources of the Western Central Atlantic. Volume 3: Bony fishes part 2 (Opistognathidae to Molidae), sea turtles and marine mammals. Carpenter KE (Ed.). FAO species identification guide for fishery purposes and American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists special publication no. 5. FAO, Rome. pp. 1375-2127.