Atlantic Bonito (Sarda sarda)

Atlantic Bonito (Sarda sarda)

A relative of tuna, the Atlantic bonito has a reputation as a tough fighter and a tasty fish, making it highly popular with anglers.


The Atlantic bonito has a completely scaled body (some types of bonito have only partially scaled bodies), a noticeably curved lateral line, and six to eight finlets on the back and the belly between the anal fin and the tail. The caudal peduncle has a lateral keel on either side, with two smaller keels above and below the main keel. It doesn’t have a swim bladder or teeth on its tongue.

The back is blue or blue-green, fading to silvery on the lower sides and the belly; a characteristic feature of the Atlantic bonito is the dark lines that extend from the back to just below the lateral line. It can be distinguished from the tuna by its slimmer body, a mouth full of teeth, and dark lines on its back, rather than on its belly.


The Atlantic bonito averages 2 to 10 pounds, although it may attain a weight of 20 pounds and a length of 36 inches. An 18-pound, 4-ounce specimen holds the all-tackle world record.

Life history/Behavior

In coastal waters, spawning occurs from January through July, depending on locale (June and July in the western Atlantic). Bonito reach sexual maturity at about 16 inches in length. Spawning usually takes place close to shore, in warm coastal waters.

Food and feeding habits

Living in open waters, the Atlantic bonito feeds primarily at or near the surface, in schools that are often 15 to 20 miles offshore but are found close to shore as well. Adults prey on small schooling fish and will also eat squid, mackerel, menhaden, alewives, anchovies, silversides, and shrimp; in addition, they tend to be cannibalistic. They feed during the day but are especially active at dawn and dusk.

Other Names

common bonito, katonkel, belted bonito; French: bonito à dos rayé, boniton, conite, pélamide; Japanese: hagatsuo, kigungegatsuo; Portuguese: cerda, sarrajâo, serra; Spanish: bonito del Atlántico, cabaña cariba, cerda.


In North America, the Atlantic bonito inhabits the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to Argentina in the western Atlantic. In the United States, it is most abundant from southern New England to New Jersey. The Atlantic bonito is rare in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico; it is absent in the West Indies.


Atlantic bonito occur in brackish water and saltwater, particularly in tropical and temperate coastal environs. Schooling and migratory, they often inhabit surface inshore waters.