The Tilefish, also known as “golden bass” or “golden snapper,” is usually found at depths of 150-600 feet in temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. The dominant species of Tilefish thrives along the North American Atlantic coastline from Nova Scotia to the Florida Keys, including the Gulf of Mexico. Areas of greatest abundance are between Nantucket and Delaware Bay, in a belt of warm water where they occupy a narrow band of the ocean floor on the upper part of the continental slope.
Tilefish are typically olive green or dark tan on top of elongated bodies and rather small heads. These colors lighten to yellow or rose on the lower sides. Brilliant yellow spots decorate the back and upper sides, while their bellies remain white. These fish are distinguished by a unique fleshy protuberance on the back, in front of a long, rudder-like dorsal fin. One spine, which may be sharp or blunt, is featured on the gill covers and left over from youth. Three smaller species of Tilefish feature vibrant colors of purple, red, and blue behind the mouth. The eyes of all species are placed high above the mouth. The shape of the tail fin ranges from truncated to forked. Tilefish larvae are noted to have many spines and serrations on their heads and scales. These fish mature at ages of five to seven years and are relatively slow-growing and long-lived, with a maximum observed age of 46 years for females and 39 years for males. Landed Tilefish weighing upwards of 50 pounds are not uncommon. The IGFA world record for Tilefish is 56.5 pounds, caught off Long Island, New York.
Many Tilefish remain solitary, but some have been known to live as monogamous pairs – all in self-made burrows, or in caves at reef bases or rockpiles. Spawning is believed to occur in July, and little is known of their growth rate. Tilefish are not known to ever rise voluntarily to the water’s surface. This fish feeds on bottom-dwelling invertebrates in its own neighborhood, such as crabs and crustaceans; but will also dine on squid, shrimp, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and shelled mollusks, as well as other fish, like spiny dogfish or eels.
Tilefish are extremely delicious, featuring firm, pinkish flesh reminiscent of lobster or crab. Cooked properly, the meat is succulent and mild-flavored, remaining moist after cooking. This makes it perfect for baking or broiling and also for chowders and seafood stews. A popular saying has often been juxtaposed: “If you love Tilefish, you’ll love lobster.”