Creature Feature – Atlantic Bonito

With my recent post, Shark Alert- Bonitos are running of course I had to take a closer look at why these critters are sought after by the larger gamefish like sharks, blue fin tuna, and sailfish.  There are 4 types of bonito but in Florida we mainly get the Atlantic Bonito.  Not to be confused with skipjack tuna, which is what Japan calls bonito. Atlantic bonito meat has a firm texture and a darkish color. The bonito has a moderate fat content.  It is smaller than a tuna but larger than a mackerel.  I have seen these while scuba diving and snorkeling but never realized what they were.

This migratory fish travels in enormous schools and it’s taste appeals to larger gamefish due to the high blood content.  This fish is of the tuna family but more streamlined and has meat of the same richness but comes in a smaller package.  The bonito is a predatory, surface feeder which would probably be the reason spinner sharks are jumping in the area. Generally the bonito will weigh somewhere between 3 and 8 pounds. 


The Atlantic bonito Fishing The Atlantic bonito, Sarda Sarda is a large mackerel-like fish of the family Scombridae, also known as Belted Bonito, Common Bonito, Katonkel. They located in Eastern Atlantic from Norway to South Africa, also known from the Mediterranean and Black Sea. They are in Western Atlantic from Canada to Florida and northern Gulf of Mexico, then from Colombia, Venezuela, and to northern Argentina.

When you look at this fish you will notice that the dorsal fins are close to each other and are separated only by a narrow space.  The bonito’s body is completely scaled with those scales in the pectoral fin area and the lateral line usually being larger. Bonitos different from tuna by their compressed bodies, by having no teeth on the roof of the mouth, and by certain coloring differences. The Atlantic bonito can be distinguished by its oblique dorsal stripes, which are at a greater angle than in other species of Sarda.  This is a small and quite streamlined tuna. It is the only tuna with longitudinal stripes on its back. The skipjack tuna has longitudinal lines, but they are on the belly rather than the back.  The bonitos have stripes on the back but not on the belly. The first dorsal fin has 20-23 spines. The second dorsal fin consists of 13-18 rays followed by 7-10 finlets. The anal fin consists of 14-17 rays followed by 6-8 finlets. The pectoral fin has 23 to 26, but usually 24 or 25 rays. The caudal peduncle has a lateral keel on either side. Upper jaw of an Atlantic bonito has 16 to 26 teeth; lower jaw has 12 to 24 teeth.

The Atlantic Sarda species have no teeth on the tongue and no swim bladder unlike the other bonito species.  There is a total of 16-23 gill rakers on the first gill arch.  The back and upper sides are steel-blue or blue-green. The lower flanks and belly are silvery.

This fish is found in brackish waters and near the shore.  Generally they school together which makes them easy pick ins for larger fish.  Atlantic bonito are relentless predators from the time they hatch.   They eat smaller schools of fish like anchovies, hake, sardines, mackerel and squid.  This fish is epipelagic, meaning that is stays in the sunlit, or euphotic zone is the top layer of the ocean zones.

They are known to live at least 9 years, but are not large fish.

Now I have heard they do not taste good but that is what people told me about Poor Man’s Lobster – King Mackerel and  I have cooked several recipes, all tasty.  So here  are a few recipes I would give a go.

Baked Bonito:

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours


  • 1 bonito, approximately 3 pounds
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Greek oregano (rigani)
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 1/2 pounds of potatoes
  • 1 1/3 cups of water


Preheat oven to 355°F (180°C).

Remove and discard head and intestines from the fish. Carefully cut the fish in half lengthwise, cutting along the back. Sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper, and oregano. Insert slices of garlic into the meatiest parts of the fish.

Clean potatoes and cut into equal size wedge-shaped pieces. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and oregano.

Place fish in a large roasting pan, and surround with potatoes. Add remaining slices of garlic over the potatoes. Whisk together the oil and lemon juice and pour over the fish and potatoes, and add water.

Bake at 355°F (180°C) for 1 1/2 hours.

Bonito with Caramelized Onion

A typically Basque recipe that can be made with bonito or tuna. Tuna has darker flesh and is considered inferior to the lighter, more delicately-flavored bonito. Both have a number of different species and are members of the tuna family. The secret of this recipe is that the onion — with or without pepper because this recipe can be made with onion only — should be cooked so slowly that it almost caramelizes but without burning.

Makes 4 servings.

Prep Time: 20 min.

Cook Time: 1 hr.

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1 slice of bonito weighing 2 1/4 lb
4 onions
4 thin green peppers
6 fl oz oil


Peel the onion and slice finely. Wash the peppers, remove the stalk and seeds, and cut into strips. Heat the oil in a two-handled frying pan and fry the onion and pepper, seasoned and covered, over a gentle heat until tender and almost caramelized. (This can also be done in a covered pan in the microwave for 10 minutes on high, finishing of the process over the heat.) Remove the skin and the bone from the center of the slice of bonito. Divide into two thick fillets, season and add to the onion and pepper mixture. Boil for one minute and serve. The bonito must be only just cooked to keep it moist.

Selected by María Jesús Gil de Antuñano
Recipe courtesy of Spain GourmeTour magazine.

About daniellesdives

diving enthusiast
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1 Response to Creature Feature – Atlantic Bonito

  1. Sounds delish! nice post

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