Cutlassfish are members of the family Trichiuridae, encompassing nearly 20 species. They are swift swimmers that generally dwell on the bottom. Used as bait for larger gamefish in the United States, cutlassfish are a valued food and a commercial species in many other countries, especially Japan, where they may be used for sashimi. They are also marketed salted/dried and frozen.


Characterized by their long, compressed bodies that taper to pointed tails, cutlassfish are also commonly known as ribbonfish. Their heads are spear-shaped, and the fish have sharp, arrowlike teeth in large mouths. Their coloring is silvery, the jaws edged with black.


Cutlassfish can reach up to 5 feet in length and 2 pounds in weight. The average length is 3 feet. The all-tackle record for Atlantic cutlassfish (Trichiurus lepturus) is a 7-pound fish caught in South Africa in 1995.

Food and feeding habits

Cutlassfish feed on anchovies, sardines, squid, and crustaceans. Adults usually feed on pelagic prey near the surface during the daytime and migrate to the bottom at night. Subadults and small juveniles do the opposite.

Other Names

cutlass fish, ribbonfish, Atlantic cutlassfish, Pacific cutlassfish, largehead hairtail; Japanese: tachinouo, tachiuo, tachuo; Portuguese: lírio, peixe-espada; Spanish: espada, pez sable, sable, savola.


In North America, the Atlantic cutlassfish commonly ranges from Massachusetts to Argentina and throughout the Gulf of Mexico, especially Texas. In the Pacific, cutlassfish inhabit waters from Southern California to northern Peru.


Preferring muddy bottoms in shallow water, cutlassfish gather in large numbers in bays, estuaries, and shallow coastal areas.