CONEY, NO BALONEY
We caught this fish in September, out of Venice, Louisiana, at an oil rig in 900 feet of water. We found a massive school of them in the upper 80 feet or so, around the rig legs. From my research, they appear to be coneys. All had two black spots just before the tail on their upper sides and two black spots on their lower jaw.
Charles “Chip” White Pineville, Louisiana
Chip, your species ID is right on. These are definitely coneys, Cephalopholis fulva, members of the huge family Serranidae, which includes sea basses, groupers and others. Those black spots on the lower jaw and on the area behind the dorsal (the caudal peduncle) are key identifiers. Using color patterns to identify members of this family is precarious because so many species have variable patterns that can change almost instantaneously. For example, coneys
have three basic patterns: a brilliant lemon yellow; a two-toned pattern with a rich dark-brownish tan above and lighter below; and the third phase, as in your fish, brownish overall. All phases may have multiple small, usually bluish spots. Other family members have comparable talents for color variations.
Coneys are small — normally less than a foot — compared to other reefdwelling sea basses and groupers. Widespread, coneys range from about South Carolina and throughout the Gulf south to southern Brazil. Anyone fortunate enough to capture a small live coney could find it to be a most fascinating and colorful resident of a marine aquarium.