If you’re fishing in Florida and you catch a Florida Pompano, African Pompano, or Permit fish and you’re not sure which you have, the difference can be the cost of a large fine from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission if you choose to keep it! You need to know which criteria define each fish so you can make a good decision about keeping the fish to eat, or not keeping it. There ARE some obvious differences, but remember there are individual differences within fish sometimes that will confuse you. In that case, let it go and keep the money in your wallet!
In 2021, the limit on keeping Permit is 1 fish per day. African Pompano, just 2 fish. Florida Pompano, 6 fish. Make sure you stay within the legal limits by knowing which fish you have.
Before you get started on detailed descriptions of the differences between these fish, these images may help you decide quickly which fish you have in front of you. Bookmark this page or save a screenshot on your mobile device.
Size Differences between Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus), African Pompano (Alectis ciliaris), and Permit (Trachinotus falcatus)
Length of Adult Fish
- As adults, Permit can reach four feet long (48″). At around three feet long they are around 23 years of age. Permit can live a long time!
Length of Juvenile Fish
- All of these species start out as eggs and any of these fish can be the same length until the bigger permit starts reaching lengths that distinguish it from the smaller Pompano.
Color Differences of Pompano vs Permit
There are some color differences between these three different species that can be used to tell one apart from another. Here’s what you should pay attention to.
- Florida Pompano have yellow on the belly, usually more near the head. Let’s say under the chin/belly area.
- Florida Pompano have some yellow on all of their fins except the dorsal fin (top fin on the back).
- Permit can have a slight yellow-orange area on the belly near the anal fin.
Body Morphology (shape) Differences of Pompano vs Permit
- Probably the easiest difference to see between these species is the long pectoral fin present on the African Pompano. It is dramatically longer, thinner and oddly shaped compared to the two Pompano species in Florida. You can probably quickly identify this odd-shaped fin if you have caught an African Pompano.
- Another difference in the African Pompano that is easily recognizable if you have some experience catching Pompano and Permit is the straight angled head meeting the mouth (lower jaw). It’s quite different from either the Permit or Florida Pompano.
- A strong difference between the Florida Pompano and the Permit is the vertical line down from the start of the dorsal fin, to the ventral surface (belly). In the Permit, this line will meet the anal fin. In the FL. Pompano, the line will still be a distance away from the beginning of the anal fin. See photo.
- Permit have a very defined (deep) V-shaped tail. Pompano have a softer V that is more open and not as severe. You may have to catch a couple of each of these species of fish to easily tell the difference, but you can use this difference in combination with some of the other distinguishing features to make a positive identification.
- Permit have 17-21 rays in their dorsal fin and 16-19 rays in their anal fins. Florida Pompano have 22-27 rays in their dorsal fin and 20-24 rays in their anal fins. (https://naturalhistory2.si.edu/smsfp/irlspec/Trachi_caroli.htm) Do be very careful in counting if you’re going to use this method to identify the fish you caught. It’s easy to miss some of the small ones near the tail.
- There are some differences in the proportions of the dorsal and anal fins that will be very hard for someone to distinguish who hasn’t caught both species before. The Pompano’s dorsal and anal fins are shorter in proportion to the body and they stand up away from the body more. The Permit’s dorsal and anal fins are longer and lay down toward the body more.
It is not something to be ashamed of if you misidentify a fish. Professionals do it all the time. I could point out on websites some misidentified fish, but I prefer to send them a private email instead! If you see a misidentified fish on our site, we’ll be grateful to you for pointing it out. Identifying permit and pompano is difficult in some cases. If you are not 100% sure which fish you have, using the criteria above to judge, it is best to just put the fish back.
Want to see our Huge Guide on Catching Pompano? >