John Dory

John Dory
  • Scientific name: Zeus faber
  • Also known as: St. Peter’s Fish
  • Size: Up to 2ft and 6lbs.
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: No record stands. Qualifying weight set at 3lbs.
  • IUCN Status: NE (Not Evaluated)
  • Distribution: Common throughout the world’s warmer seas but confined to southern England and Ireland in the warmer months.
  • Feeds on: Small fish.
  • Description: Strange looking fish. Body is almost circular and laterally compressed.  Colour can be yellow, brown or orange, alternating with white stripes and patches.   Large, prominent black spot in the centre of the body. Underside is paler. Head is large, as is the expandable, tube-like mouth. First dorsal fin is made of long, spiky filaments, and pectoral fins are long and flowing.

The John Dory is a warm water fish which is common around Africa, Asian and New Zealand and Australia. In Europe it is generally found in the Mediterranean, although they can be found around the southern parts of England and Ireland in the warm summer months. Occasionally they will be found in isolated numbers further north.

John Dory Hunting

A John Dory in its natural environment.

John Dory are a demersal fish which can be found in water depths ranging from a few metres to several hundred metres deep. They are generally solitary fish, although smaller John Dory have occasionally been found to form very small shoals. John Dory are predators and feed by hunting smaller fish. Although John Dory are poor swimmers the mouth is extendable and tube-like, meaning that they only have to get near to their prey where they can shoot their mouth out and suck in the smaller fish. The black mark on the side of the John Dory is a defensive measure, used to confuse predators by fooling them into thinking they are looking at the eye and head of a much larger fish.

Commercial Value

John Dory Fishmarket

John Dory on sale at a fish market in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

John Dory are an edible fish and are of increasing commercial importance in waters where they are common, where they may be targeted by trawlers or retained if they are caught as bycatch when fishing for other species. They are sold on fresh fish counters at fishmongers and there is a growing demand from upmarket restaurants who want to put John Dory on their menus. The flesh is firm and has a delicate, mild flavour, although the amount of edible flesh on a John Dory is only about a third of its overall bodyweight. There is little information on the state of John Dory stocks and fishing for this species is mostly unregulated.

Angling for John Dory

Always a very rare catch from the shore of the UK, the John Dory that are caught on rod and line usually go to boat anglers fishing offshore, such as David Beckham and his son. John Dory will go for lures, as well as fish strip which flutters in the tide. Any John Dory caught from the shore is noteworthy, underlined by the fact that the British shore caught record is currently vacant (the qualifying weight is set at 3lbs). The British boat caught record is a fish of 11lbs 14oz which was caught by Mr. J. Johnson fishing off the coast of East Sussex back in 1977.

Unusual Name

The name John Dory is of uncertain origin. John Dory was the subject of a folk song from the 1600s, although if there was ever any evidence of a link between this song and the fish it has been lost over the centuries. Another theory is that the John part of the name derives from the french word jaune which means yellow. A number of other species of fish are known as dorys. The alternative name of St. Peter’s Fish comes from an ancient legend. It is said that St. Peter picked this fish up from the Sea of Galilee, but instead of keeping it he returned it to the water. The black mark on the side of the John Dory is said to be St. Peter’s thumbprint.

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