There are over one hundred species of sea bream across the world, and the name is also applied to a number of fish species which live in freshwater. In terms of fish that sea anglers can catch in British waters there are two main species of interest: the black bream (Spondyliosoma cantharus) and the red bream (Pagellus bogaraveo) both of which have profiles below. However there are several other species, some of which appear to be becoming more common throughout British waters, each of which are discussed in slightly less detail below.
Distribution and Life Cycle
Bream are fish usually associated with tropical and sub-tropical waters. However, they seem to be becoming more and more common in British waters, with venues in the south and south west of England producing various bream species on a regular basis, and catches in smaller numbers being reported all around the United Kingdom. Bream species have a number of interesting characteristics. Most species are protogynic hermaphrodites – meaning that they are all born as females but certain fish will turn into males when they reach sexual maturity to allow reproduction to take place (this is something they have in common with wrasse species). Bream are also unusual in the sense that they are omnivores: they feed primarily on smaller animals such as fish and crustaceans, but will also feed on seaweed and other forms of marine vegetation. Bream are edible, but they are not regularly eaten by British consumers and are not an important fish to the UK commercial fishing industry. With the exception of the Couch’s bream which is classed as Endangered, all of the bream species featured on this page are classed as Not Evaluated by the IUCN.
- Scientific name: Spondyliosoma cantharu
- Also known as: Porgy/Porgie, Seabream, Black Seabeam
- Size: Up to 2ft/60cm and 7lbs
- UK minimum size: 10ins/23cm
- UK shore caught record: 6lb 8oz
- Distribution:A warm water fish primarily found around the south of the British Isles, although isolated populations are located further north.
- Feeds on: Small crustaceans, shellfish and other invertebrates. They also feed on marine vegetation.
- Description: Oval shaped fish. Single dorsal fin is long and runs for around two thirds of the body length and has short spines protruding, gill covers are also sharp. Colour is usually black with grey to silver stripes and fades to white/silver towards the belly, darker in the breeding season. Anal fin is much smaller and tail is deeply forked. Mouth is small but powerful and full of sharp teeth.
The black bream was once a rare fish around Britain, but rising sea temperatures have seen numbers rise and it is now close to being a common catch for many anglers around the south of Britain and Ireland in the summer months. Like many other species the black bream head for deeper water when winter approaches and catches dry up for shore anglers in the colder months. The breeding season is in spring and the black bream gets noticeably darker at this time of year. The male bream creates a nest on the seabed and eggs are laid there. The male protects the nest and eggs until they hatch.
Methods and Techniques to Catch Black Bream
Black bream are not fussy about the seabeds they live over and can be caught across sandy, mixed and fairly rough ground. However, they are known to be attracted to features such as wrecks, shellfish beds and weed beds, so placing a bait near to these will increase the chances of success. Black bream come into fairly shallow water and as long as casts are landing in at least a few metres of water then catches are possible. Fishing for black bream is perfectly suited to light tackle fishing, and maximum sport can be gained from this species if tackle is well chosen and balanced. As black bream feed at all water levels both fishing baits on the bottom and presenting float fished baits in mid water are viable methods to catch this species. There is no need for complicated rigs and a two hook flapping rig is a good choice when fishing from the shore as it allows a different bait to be presented on each hook. When it comes to float fishing start with a bait presented around six feet below the surface and lower the bait by a foot or so every few casts until the feeding fish are located. Fish baits tend to get the best results with mackerel, herring or squid strip, along with sandeel getting the best results. However, as black bream are an unfussy species ragworm, lugworm, mussel and peeler crab baits can all produce as well. Sharp spine and gill covers mean care should be taken when handling this species.
- Scientific name: Pagellus bogaraveo
- Also known as: Blackspot Sea Bream
- Size: Up to 3ft and 10lbs
- UK minimum size:10ins/23cm
- UK shore caught record: 4lb 7oz
- Distribution: Can be found in isolated numbers around the UK, but only found in large numbers off the southern coast of England.
- Feeds on: Small fish and will also take crustaceans.
- Description:Same oval shape as the black bream. The red bream has a high lateral line and is a pink to red colour on the upper flanks, fading to a silver around the belly. It has the same long spined dorsal and same shape anal fin as the black bream, and the mouth is also full of sharp teeth. Eyes are very large. There is a prominent black spot above the pectoral fin, which varies in size from fish to fish.
The red bream has a wider distribution around the UK, but is still concentrated in greater numbers around the south, especially the English Channel. It is a deeper water fish (hence the larger eyes) and hunts smaller fish around wrecks, caves and offshore structures, which are usually in at least thirty or forty metres of water. It is therefore a fish commonly caught by boat anglers in the English Channel, but is a rare catch for shore anglers. While it can approach 10lbs in size the vast majority are much smaller than this.
The red bream is sometimes called the blackspot bream due to the black spot near to its pectoral fin. This can cause great confusion and lead to this species getting mixed up with the black bream.
- Scientific name: Brama brama
- Also known as: Pomfret, Atlantic Pomfret
- UK shore caught record: 7lb 15oz
Ray’s bream are a large bream species, able to reach weights of around 10lbs. They are the typical bream shape, and are usually dark grey, black or dark green in colour. Like most bream species they are more common in the south of the UK but do show in decent numbers elsewhere, with certain locations as far north as Scotland holding this species. It is also found throughout the warmer waters of the world around the equator. They generally live in offshore waters and will feed at all water levels. They are opportunistic feeders and will hunt small fish and sandeels, and feed on the seabed for crabs, lobsters, marine worms and shellfish. Ray’s bream are sometimes found beached on the shore, occasionally in huge numbers. It is unknown why this happens but it is thought that they may become disorientated by sudden changes in water temperature. This species is named after the famous English naturalist John Ray (1627 – 1705) who first discovered and classified this species, although in most countries other than the UK and Ireland this species is known as pomfret or Atlantic pomfret.
- Scientific name: Sparus aurata
- Also known as: Dorade Royale
- UK shore caught record: 10lb 7oz
The gilt-head bream can grow to around three feet in length and over 10lbs, but fish this size are rare and one half of this size would be considered large. It has a slightly more elongated body than most other bream species and is usually a bluish green in colour. It has the typical long, spined dorsal fin of bream and a large black mark on the gill cover. The tail is black. While fully grown mature fish may live in depths down to around one hundred metres or so the vast majority live and feed in shallower inshore waters. It is primarily a demersal (bottom feeding) fish the gilt-head bream feeds on crustaceans, prawns and shellfish, although they are herbivorous and can feed on seaweed and other forms of marine vegetation. Being found mainly in the Mediterranean the gilt-head bream is a rare fish in UK waters, with only the south and south-west producing this species in any numbers, although warming seas mean that it may be expanding its distribution around the UK. The gilt-head is said to be the best tasting of the bream species. It has commercial value in the Mediterranean areas where it has been eaten by humans since at least the time of the Roman Empire, and is also an important species in aquaculture and is intensively farmed in many parts of the world. The British shore caught record was set in 2015 by Ryan Carter who caught a gilt-head bream of 10lb 7oz in Kingsbridge Estuary in Devon, while the boat caught record (a fish of 10lb 2oz) was also set in 2015. These recently set records add weight to the theory that this species is becoming more common in British waters.
- Scientific name: Pagellus erythrinus
- Also known as: Common Pandora Bream
- UK shore caught record: 1lb 8oz
A bream that grows to around four pounds in size, the Pandora bream is another rare visitor to UK waters. It has a much slimmer and longer body than most bream species and is mostly silver in colour, often with a pinkish tinge on the black, and blue/purple speckles. It is another omnivorous species of bream and mostly takes small crustaceans and invertebrates, supplementing this with seaweed and vegetation. Although it is most commonly found in the Mediterranean it has a wide distribution and is found in smaller numbers throughout European waters all the way around to the North Sea and Scandinavian waters. Although this species is an important food fish in some countries the flesh of Pandora bream caught in tropical waters can be toxic due to the threat of ciguatera poisoning.
- Scientific name: Diplodus sargus
- Also known as: Sargo
- UK shore caught record: 2lb 12oz
A small bream growing to around eighteen inches but typically less than six, the white bream is an attractive fish. It has the typical bream shape and dorsal fin, with a highly forked tail. It is light grey/silver to brilliant white in colour with several black bands running down the body. There is a clear black mark just before the tail, and the tail fin itself is usually trimmed with black. It is an active hunter, usually found around inshore waters where it will search for food in rough water and just behind the breakers, feeding on dislodged shellfish, worms and crustaceans, using their strong jaws to crunch through shells. They will also eat seaweed and pieces of coral. They are very much a warm water species found primarily in the Mediterranean and all around the coasts of Africa. However, very rare visitors come to southern UK waters, and there is a British shore caught record for this species. The white bream is of minor commercial importance in some Mediterranean countries, and is farmed to a small extent. The UK shore record was set in 2015 by Roger Bryant who caught a white bream of 2lb 12oz off the coast of Jersey in the Channel Islands.
- Scientific name: Pagrus pagrus (formerly Sparus pagrus)
- Also known as: Red Porgy, and elsewhere in the world as the Common Seabream.
- UK shore caught record: 2lb 15oz
A large seabream species the Couch’s bream can grown to almost a metre long and weigh around fifteen pounds. It is has a slightly more elongated body than most other bream species and its dorsal fin is unusual in that it begins as a spined fin and then is more rounded and softer in the trailing edge. Overall colour is red/pink fading to a silver underbelly. The Couch’s bream feeds on small fish, crustaceans and shellfish. It has a wide distribution and is found throughout the Mediterranean, off the coasts of Africa and around North and South America. Is is caught commercially and is also farmed, and is a popular fish to catch on rod and line in many countries. The Couch’s bream is named after Dr. Jonathon Couch (1789 – 1870) the Cornish naturalist who discovered this species in British waters.