Tilefish are members of the Branchiostegidae and Malacanthidae families, which include roughly 50 species that are distributed worldwide. Most have little to no significance to anglers but are popular food fish, with firm, white flesh, and are found in fish markets.

Most tilefish are less than 2 feet long and slender. The anal and the dorsal fins are long and low; the pelvic fins are located far forward, directly under the pectorals. Some exist in temperate waters, but most are tropical.

A well-known species is the great northern tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps), which inhabits the outer continental shelf from Nova Scotia to northern South America and is relatively abundant from southern New England to the mid-Atlantic coast at depths of 44 to 240 fathoms. Tilefish are generally found in and around submarine canyons, where they occupy burrows in the sedimentary substrate and feed on crustaceans, shrimp, squid, and small fish.

This species is relatively slow growing and long lived, with a maximum age and length of 35 years and 43 inches in females, and 26 years and 44 inches in males. Both sexes are mature at ages 5 to 7. The back and the sides are bluish- or greenish-gray, sprinkled with yellow spots.

The belly and the cheeks are rose, grading into white at the midline. The dorsal fin is marked with yellow spots. The pectoral fins are dark and margined with black, as is the anal fin.

The sand tilefish (Malacanthus plumieri), averaging 12 inches in length and occasionally reaching 24 inches, is a slim, almost eel-like fish found in reefs and sandy areas of warm Caribbean and Florida waters, rarely deeper than 50 feet.

A similar species is M. hoedtiiof the western Pacific. The ocean whitefish (Caulolatilus princeps), found from British Columbia to Peru (but rare north of California), is found in eastern Pacific waters.