Bream Species

There are over one hundred species of sea bream across the world, and the name is also applied to a number of fish species that live in freshwater rivers and lakes. In terms of the bream 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 of bream, some of which appear to be becoming more common throughout British waters, especially around the south and west of the British Isles, possibly as the result of climate change and warming sea temperatures. These species also have profiles below. Scroll down to read through all of the species or use these links to jump to a specific species of bream:

Black Bream Red BreamRay’s BreamGilt-head BreamPandora BreamWhite BreamCouch’s BreamTwo-banded Sea Bream

Distribution and Life Cycle

Freshwater Bream
A number of freshwater species are also known as bream. This is picture shows a common bream (Abramis brama).

Bream are fish usually associated with tropical and sub-tropical waters. 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 protogynous 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.

Black Bream

Black Bream C Gronk

  • Scientific name: Spondyliosoma cantharus
  • 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. A 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. The anal fin is much smaller and the tail is deeply forked. The 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. 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 good results as well. Sharp spine and gill covers mean care should be taken when handling this species. The shore caught record for black bream was set in 2001 with a fish of 6lb 8oz caught at Creux Harbour, Channel Islands, while the boat caught record of 6lb 14oz was caught off the coast of Torquay, Devon in 1977.

Red Bream

Red Bream

  • 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 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 shore caught record red bream was set in 1979 at Alderney Lighthouse in the Channel Islands with a fish of 4lb 7oz, while the boat caught record for this species of bream is a specimen of 9lb 8oz caught off Megavissey in Cornwall in 1974.

Ray’s Bream

  •  Scientific name: Brama bramaRay's Bream
  • 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. The shore caught record for this species is 7lb 15oz, caught in 1967 from Crimdon Beach in Hartlepool, while the boat caught record is 6lb 3oz caught off Berra Head, Scotland in 1978.

Gilt-head Bream

Gilt Head Bream

  • Scientific name: Sparus aurata
  • Also known as: Dorade Royale
  • UK shore caught record: 12lb 2oz

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 long-spined dorsal fin which is typical of bream species 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 bream 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. A new 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, but this was then beaten in 2017 but a 12lb 2oz specimen caught in 2017 from the same area. 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.

Pandora Bream

Common Pandora Bream

  • 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 to humans and cause ciguatera poisoning. The British shore caught record for Pandora bream is a specimen of 1lb 8oz caught at Helford River, Cornwall in 2001, while the boat caught record is a specimen of caught off Newquay coast also in Cornwall in 1997. The IGFA all-tackle world record was set in Dontie Gordo, Portugal in 1996 when Geoff Flores caught a Pandora bream weighing 7lb 2oz.

White Bream

White Bream

  • Scientific name: Diplodus sargus
  • Also known as: Sargo
  • UK shore caught record: 3lb 3oz

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 a 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. 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 has been broken twice in recent years. A white bream of 2lb 12oz was caught by Roger Bryant in 2015 off the coast of Jersey in the Channel Islands, but this was broken in 2018 with a specimen of 3lb 3oz by Jason Touzel, which was also caught in Jersey.

Couch’s Bream

Red Porgy

  • 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: 3lb 4oz

A large seabream species the Couch’s bream can grow to three feet in length and weigh around fifteen pounds. It is has a slightly more elongated body than most other bream species. 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. It is caught commercially and is also farmed, and is a popular fish to catch on rod and line in many countries. The British shore and boat caught records for this species were both set relatively recently. The shore record was set in 2008 with a 3lb 4oz Couch’s bream caught off the coast of the Guernsey, while the boat caught record of 9lb 5oz was also caught in the same area in 2011. The Couch’s bream is named after Dr Jonathon Couch (1789 – 1870) the Cornish naturalist who discovered this species in British waters.

Two-banded Sea Bream

  • Scientific name: Diplodus vulgaris 
  • Also known as: Common Two-banded Sea Bream
  • UK shore caught record: 83 grams (approx. 3oz)

The two-banded sea bream is a species of bream that was, until recently, absent from British waters. However, possibly as a result of warming seas, it is now found in the waters around the south of the British Isles, although it remains very rare. Its natural habitat is the Mediterranean and the northern coastline of Africa, but in the early 2000s commercial fishermen in Guernsey and the south of England reported occasional catches of this species. In 2021 there was further evidence that this species was indeed becoming more common in British waters when British boat caught and shore caught records were set. The shore record is 83 grams (approximately 3oz) which was caught at Sark in the Channel Islands, and the boat record is 1lb 8oz which was caught off the coast of Padstow, Cornwall. The IGFA all-tackle world record is a two-banded sea bream of 2lb 13oz caught at Europa Point, Gibraltar by Ernest Borrell in 1996.

This species has a rounded body shape and is usually silvery-grey in colour with two thick black bands running down the body, one past the gills and the other towards the tail. This species of bream can grow to an average of three pounds in weight, although most are much smaller than this. Two-banded sea bream feed on marine worms and shellfish and can be found across both rocky and sands seabeds to a depth of around fifty metres. They are highly regarded as a food fish in many Mediterranean countries.