John Dory

John Dory
  • Scientific name: Zeus faber
  • Also known as: St. Peter’s Fish, Saint Pierre
  • Size: Up to 3ft and 9lbs, typically less than half this size.
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: No record stands. Qualifying weight set at 3lbs.
  • IGFA world record: 9lb 1oz
  • IUCN Status
    • Global: DD (Data Deficient)
    • Europe: DD (Data Deficient)
  • 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. The 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. The underside is paler. Head is large, as is the expandable, tube-like mouth. The first dorsal fin is made of long, spiky filaments, and pectoral fins are long and flowing.

The John Dory is a strange-looking fish with an unusual name. Despite being associated with the warm waters around the equator is can be found in UK waters on an occasional basis. A rare catch indeed for shore anglers there is currently no British shore caught record for this species but there is a boat caught record.


John Dory Distribution
Worldwide distribution of John Dory.

This species has a wide distribution around much of the world. In Europe, John Dory can be found from Scandinavian waters throughout the North Sea (although it is uncommon in these areas and is absent from the Baltic Sea). Its range continues through the Mediterranean and all around the entire continent of Africa. It is found throughout the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and parts of the Pacific. This species is, however, not found off the coasts of North or South America.

Habitat and Feeding

John Dory
A John Dory in its natural environment.

John Dory is 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 into small shoals. John Dory are predators and feed by hunting smaller fish. Although this species is a poor swimmer their tube-like mouth is extendable, meaning they only have to get near to their prey where they can shoot their mouth out and suck in the smaller fish. The black spot 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 is 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.

Pan Fried John Dory
A dish of pan-fried John Dory served at Pied à Terre, a Michelin-starred French restaurant in central London.

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 weight. There is little information on the state of John Dory stocks and fishing for this species is mostly unregulated. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has not been able to gather enough information to make an assessment on the stocks of John Dory, meaning they are classed as Data Deficient on both a global and European level. However, it is believed to be locally abundant in many areas of its range, and its wide distribution means that it is protected to a certain extend from overfishing.

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 some distance 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. The IGFA all-tackle world record is a John Dory of 9lb 1oz caught by Tim Christian at Mercury Bay in New Zealand in 2016.

Unusual Name

The name John Dory (which is sometimes written entirely in lower case as 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. 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 spot on the side of the John Dory is therefore known as St. Peter’s thumbprint and the species has the alternative name of St. Peter’s fish.