Hogfish are a species of marine fish belonging to the Labridae family. They are actually a type of wrasse with some species closely related to parrotfish. While one of the larger species of hogfish, Lachnolaimus maximus, is referred to solely as “hogfish,” there are several other smaller species of hogfish such as the Spanish hogfish, axilspot hogfish and Diana’s hogfish. The biggest similarity between these species is their pointed snout used to root through the sandy sea floor for food to eat. This snout and behavior is the reason for their namesake. Their colors are variable, dependent upon age, sex and habitat. Hogfish are carnivorous with a diet of crustaceans, mollusks and echinoderms.
Most species of hogfish occupy the western Atlantic Ocean. This includes Bermuda and North Carolina, south through the Caribbean Sea and northern Gulf of Mexico, and the north coast of South America. However, a few species do inhabit the Indian Ocean such as the axilspot hogfish and Diana’s hogfish. The axilspot hogfish occupies the Indo West Pacific including the Red Sea down to southern Kwa-Zulu Natal, while Diana’s hogfish is spotted along East Africa, and farther east to the Nicobar Islands and Cocos-Keeling Islands. Some species of hogfish can be located at depths of 3 to 30 meters deep. Due to their foraging nature, open of hard sand or rock bottoms and coral reefs are preferred habitat. Some of the larger hogfish can be found on main reef area, while smaller individuals occupy the shallow patch reefs just inshore and offshore the main reef structure.
Hogfish live in groups of one male with several females as part of his harem. Hogfish are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning they are capable of changing their sex as they get older. These fish will start as female and change into a male as they not only grow larger, but gain social dominance. With the Lachnolaimus maximus, scientists have observed sex changes to occur at roughly 3 years of age and 14 inches in length. Of all the hogfish species, only Lachnolaimus maximus appears to have been listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) back in 2009. Stock assessment for most hogfish can be difficult. The reduced population in some areas though is likely the result of fishing pressure from commercial harvesting. Fishery managers have taken the effort to reduce catch allowed by implementing size and bag limits. There have also been successful attempts at raising this species of hogfish in captivity, which should help further decrease the need to harvest as many in the wild.