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What is a Weakfish?

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  • Written By: R. Britton
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2016
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A weakfish, Cynoscion regalis, is a medium-size fish belonging to the genus Cynoscion that can be found along the eastern coast of Canada and America as far south as northern Florida. It is commonly known as a weakfish because of the tender skin and muscles of its jaw. This skin and muscle often tears or splits when a weakfish is caught with a line and hook, which allows the fish to escape capture. It was elected the state fish of Delaware in 1981.

This species has been a major source of both commercial and recreational fishing since the 19th century. By 2010, heavy over-fishing had caused the number of weakfish in the wild to suffer a major decline, and the extreme low numbers were rapidly becoming a serious cause of concern. Measures were imposed to help to raise the number of weakfish to sustainable levels. Those measures include reducing the legal weakfish harvest levels for commercial fishermen. The measures imposed are aimed at long-term recovery of the weakfish species, and it was expected to take many years to show a significant improvement in numbers and bring the species back to a sustainable level.

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Mature weakfish can reach lengths of 18 inches (7 cm) and can weigh up to 18 pounds (8 k). During the breeding season starting in early March, when water temperatures begin to rise, the adult fish migrate north to breeding or spawning grounds, which are usually close to shore. From April until late July, the female weakfish produce vast quantities of eggs to be fertilized by the male. Unlike most fish, the females of this species lay an almost continual stream of eggs during the breeding season.

When water temperatures begin to drop, usually around September, the adult fish once again migrate south to their wintering grounds away from the shoreline. Very young, or larval, weakfish travel to nursery areas, commonly in bays or estuaries, which have lower salt levels than the open sea; they feed on microscopic organisms. In December of the first year of life, the juvenile weakfish travel back to the open sea, with its higher salt levels, and migrate south to join the adult population. Juvenile and adult weakfish consume small shoaling fish, shrimp and crustaceans.

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