Gobies are a family of fish which are found all over the world, with several thousand species existing in total. The vast majority of goby species are under 10cm in length, and some of the worlds very smallest species of fish (those which are under 10mm long when fully mature) are gobies. There are a large number of goby species found in British waters, and the rising popularity of LRF (Light Rock Fishing) means that more and more anglers are turning their attention to catching goby species.
This page contains profiles on sixteen species, all of which are found in UK waters and have the common name goby applied to them. Scroll down to read through all profiles, or click on the links below to jump to a species.
Common Goby – Black Goby – Two-Spotted Goby – Steven’s Goby – Red Mouthed Goby – Leopard Spotted Goby – Painted Goby – Giant Goby – Sand Goby – Jeffrey’s Goby – Rock Goby – Transparent Goby – Fries’s Goby – Diminuitive Goby – Couch’s Goby – Crystal Goby
Common Goby (Pomatoschistus Microps) – British shore caught record: 1 gram
The common goby is a small fish which is abundant around all of UK and Ireland, with their distribution extending throughout Europe and into North African waters. They live in shallow inshore waters, usually under twenty metres deep, and are often trapped in rockpools until they are freed by the incoming tide. Common gobies are usually sandy brown to grey in colour with dark patches. The body tapers away into from head to thin and slender tail. The eyes are large in proportion to the rest of the body and located towards the top of the head. They grow to around 6 – 7cm in length.
The common goby appears to have a fairly high tolerance of low salinity levels in water and can be found in brackish water and fairly far up rivers. Gobies lay their eggs under shells and rocks during the breeding season in spring with the young growing rapidly as the lifespan of the common goby is only around one year. Common goby are prey for larger species of fish and given the chance all of the predatory species found in inshore waters will feed on the goby. Gobies are considered abundant around both the UK and the rest of Europe and are considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN.
The common goby holds the record for the smallest UK shore caught fish, with the record standing at one gram. The fish was caught in the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal by Geoffrey Green in 2006.
Black Goby (Gobius niger) – British shore caught record: 63 grams
The black goby is a species of goby which is found throughout the waters of the British Isles, although it is believed to be more common in the south. Their range extends around all of Europe with this species being found in the Mediterranean and Black sea, across the north coast of Africa and up to the Baltic Sea. It can grow to a maximum of around 17 – 18cm, although on average it is around half of this length. Its name comes from its colour, which is usually dark and can be almost black, although this is not a reliable method of identifying this fish, as black gobies can also be much lighter in colour. The first dorsal fin is often high and triangular and there is a black spot/mark on the leading edge of both dorsal fins.
Black gobies are generally found across sandy and muddy seabeds and favour areas which are heavy with seagrass. They live in shallow waters, rarely being found below thirty metres deep and can often be found in inter-tidal areas, inshore areas and in estuaries tidal river areas. Their diet is made up of marine worms, shrimps, prawns and they may also scavenge on dead or dying fish. The UK shore caught record for this species is a black goby of 63 grams (approx. 2.2 ounces) caught by F. O’Brien off Inveraray Pier, Scotland in 1980.
Two-spotted Goby (Gobiusculus flavescens)
The two-spotted goby is a small goby species which is common all around the British Isles. It is also found in northern European waters, although its range does not extend into the Mediterranean. The two-spotted goby is a slender fish which rarely exceeds 7 – 8cm in length. Colour can be red, green, brownish or pink/orange and the name of this species derives from the two spots which are present – one behind the gills and one just in front of the tail (although the tail spot may be absent in females). In the breeding season, the colour of the males can become extremely bright with the fins streaked with bright blue and other colours, although the males soon die after spawning. The two-spotted goby is generally found over sandy seabeds, especially where there is seagrass or other marine vegetation present. May form into shoals and, unlike almost all goby species, live in mid-water above the seabed. They feed on forms of plankton and very small marine invertebrates. No shore caught record is listed for this species.
Steven’s Goby (Gobius gasteveni)
A medium-sized goby which can grow to around 12 – 13cm in length. The Steven’s goby is generally found around the south and west of the British Isles and is largely absent from the rest of the country. It is also found throughout the North Atlantic but is only found in very small numbers in the western Mediterranean. Steven’s goby is species which is found in deeper water, usually around thirty metres of depth down to several hundred metres, usually over sandy or muddy seabeds. Relatively little is known about the breeding, feeding and life cycle of Steven’s goby, and although it is a relatively rare species the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) class this as a species of Least Concern. No shore caught record is listed for this species.
Red Mouthed Goby (Gobius cruentatus)
The red mouthed goby is a species of goby which grows to around 18 – 20cm in length. It can be light brown to reddish in colour with speckled or blotched lighter patches Its mouth area can be a brighter or more vivid red – which gives this species its name – although this may not be the case in all specimens. The first dorsal fin is high and somewhat spiny, and the second dorsal fin runs along the rest of the back. It is found predominantly around the south west of England, around the Welsh coast and in the waters around the Republic of Ireland. Its range expands throughout the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and along the northern coast of Africa. They are generally found in shallow inshore waters across a range of seabeds. There is currently no shore caught record listed for this species of goby.
Leopard Spotted Goby (Thorogobius ephippiatus) – British shore caught record: 39 grams
Goby species with a unique spotted pattern which grows up to 15cm in length. Colour is generally pale whitish to light grey with orange/brown spots all over the body. The mouth is somewhat upturned with prominent lips. The population of this species is spread all around the British Isles, but it is more common around the western coast, with its range extending throughout most of Europe’s waters. This species can be found in shallow inshore waters including in rockpools, but can also be found in relatively deep water down to around fifty metres.
Painted Goby (Pomatoschistus pictus)
Small goby species which can grow to 9 – 10cm, but is typically half this length. The painted goby is generally a light brown/yellow speckled colour with darker patches. The underside is paler and there is sometimes a striped pattern on the dorsal fin which can sometimes be a vivid blue. The waters around the British Isles are the primary home of this species, although it can also be found in Scandinavian waters and in the Mediterranean to a limited extent. This species can be found across sandy and gravel areas where they are camouflaged against the seabed and live in waters from shallow inshore waters (including rockpools) down to depths of over fifty metres. No shore caught record listed.
Giant Goby (Gobius Cobitis) – British shore caught record: 262 grams
The giant goby is (as the name implies) a large species of goby which can grow to sizes of up to 30cm in length. Colour is generally a light brown to yellowy greenish, with darker speckles across the body. This species is found mostly around south west of England and are absent from most of the rest of the UK, although their range does extend southwards through European waters. They can be found in the intertidal zone and in rockpools, although they are also found in deeper water slightly further offshore. Due to its size, this species has limited commercial value, mostly in regions around the Black Sea.
Giant Goby are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1998, meaning they must be returned to the sea if they have been caught.
Sand Goby (Pomatoschistus minutus) – British shore caught record: 3 grams
A small goby species, usually up to 9cm in length, which is found all around the coasts of the UK and Ireland. It can be found in shallow inshore waters, in rockpools and also in estuaries and brackish water across sandy, shingle and muddy seabeds. It is generally a yellowy to light brown colour with a darkened blotched or speckled colour. There is a dark spot on the back of the dorsal fin and at the point where the tail joins the body (caudal peduncle). As well as being found all around the UK this species is also found throughout Scandinavian waters and into the Mediterranean. This species has no commercial value but is sometimes acquired to keep in marine aquariums.
Jeffery’s Goby (Buenia jeffreysii)
A goby species which is found mostly around the western coast of the British Isles, although its range does extend into Scandinavian and southern European waters, but it is absent from the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Found across sandy and broken seabeds, generally in shallow waters, but can be found at depths of over one hundred meters. Colour is usually brownish/yellow speckled with a pale underside and the first dorsal fin is high and pointed. The life cycle, feeding habits and breeding patterns of this species are relatively poorly understood. No shore caught record is listed for this species of goby.
Rock Goby (Gobius paganellus) – British shore caught record: 35 grams
The rock goby is a medium-sized goby which grows to around 12cm. As its name suggests it is found in rocky areas, especially if they have a lot of heavy weed cover. They are found all around the coast of the British Isles, and also throughout most of Europe. Colour is usually a dark brown (sometimes with lighter speckles) although they can also be almost black. Some reports state that this species can be found in brackish water and may travel into almost completely freshwater environments. Females lay eggs on stone surfaces or on discarded shells, with the male guarding the eggs until they hatch.
Transparent Goby (Aphia minuta)
A strange species of goby which grows to around 7 – 8cm in length. Found all throughout European waters with its range extending from the Baltic Sea to the coast of North Africa and into the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It is a pelagic (mid-water species) which favours sandy and fine shingle seabeds and can also be found across seagrass beds. There is some dispute over its breeding patterns with some sources stating that transparent gobies move into deeper water to spawn and then die, while other reports state that they spawn several times throughout their lives.
Unlike most goby species the transparent goby has commercial value and is used in the dish chanquetes which is associated with the Andalusian region of Spain where it is considered a delicacy. In this dish the transparent goby is taken whole and dipped in olive oil and flour and then deep-fried in oil. There is evidence that transparent goby has been overfished due to the demand for this dish, and there are also issues with other species being caught and discarded as bycatch in the transparent goby fishery. No shore caught record is listed for the transparent goby.
Fries’s goby (Lesueurigobius friesii)
Fries’s goby is a medium-sized goby species which can reach lengths of 12 – 13cm. This species is generally pale in colour with yellow/light brown speckles or spots covering its entire body and fins. The first dorsal fin is long and high with trailing fins. Found all around the UK and throughout most European waters. Usually found over sandy seabeds where is buries itself into the sediment. The Fries’s goby is often found in areas where Nephrops norvegicus (the crustacean which is used in scampi) is present. There is currently no shore caught record for this species of goby.
The diminutive goby is one of the smallest goby species in UK waters, reaching a maximum length of just 4cm. The colour can vary between brownish, greyish or yellow and the dorsal fin is often brightly coloured. This species of goby is found throughout the North East Atlantic from Iceland to France and is found at all water depths from relatively shallow inshore waters all of the way down to several hundred metres deep. Diminutive gobies feed on tiny crustaceans, polychaete worms and minute shellfish. The International Union for the Conservation of Natures classes the diminutive goby as a species of Least Concern and states that the abundance of the species is probably underestimated and no conservation measures are needed for this species. Unsurprisingly, for a species of this size, there is no shore caught British record currently listed.
Couch’s goby are found in scattered locations around the southern parts of England and Ireland, with their distribution extending into parts of the North East Atlantic and the Mediterranean. They grow to a maximum size of around 10cm in length. Colour is usually light brown/yellow in a speckled pattern with a row of darker spots running down the lateral line. Couch’s goby feed on small marine worms and tiny shellfish and crustaceans.
Couch’s Goby are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1998, meaning they must be returned to the sea if they have been caught.
The crystal goby is a small goby species which is found throughout the North East Atlantic and Mediterranean sea. It is a small goby species, growing no larger than 5cm and has a strange transparent appearance and has an upturned mouth with teeth which are large relative to its size. Due to its appearance this species is often confused with the transparent goby, but the larger size of this species (when fully grown) and the upturned mouth can be used to distinguish the two species. Crystal gobies are found in shallow inshore waters, but can also live in depths down to several hundred metres. This species has some commercial value with small-scale artisanal fisheries in the Mediterranean catching this species. It is used in a number of southern European dishes, although it is not sold on a large scale. Despite the commercial exploitation of this species it is thought to be abundant with the stock numbers stable. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes this species as one of Least Concern. Little is known about the life cycle of the crystal goby, although it is thought to be short-lived and possibly die after spawning after its first year of life. No shore caught British record is currently held for this goby species.
Picture credits for photos above:
- Common Goby © Ove Glen Jen
- Giant Goby © Drow Male
- Sand Goby © Yuriy Kvach
- Rock Goby © Roberto Pillon
- Chanquetes © Tamorlan
- Fries’s Goby © riblje-oko.hr
- Couch’s Goby © Roberto Pillon
- Crystal Goby © riblje-oko.hr