Dorado fish, also known as Mahi-Mahi, is a fascinating species that has captivated both fishermen and gourmets alike. This majestic fish is recognized by its vibrant colors and acrobatic jumps when caught on a line. While prized as a sport fish, Dorado is also cherished for its sweet, moist flesh that lends itself well to a variety of cooking methods.
This guide aims to provide a comprehensive look at Dorado fish, covering its biology, habitat, culinary uses, and much more. We’ll also delve into some intriguing questions like “Is Dorado and Mahi-Mahi the same?” and “Why is Dorado called Mahi-Mahi?” From biology to fishing tips, recipes, and sustainability issues, we will uncover everything there is to know about this tropical delicacy from the sea.
What is a Dorado Fish?
Definition and Scientific Classification
Dorado, also referred to as dolphinfish or Mahi-Mahi, is a species of fish in the Coryphaenidae family. Its scientific name is Coryphaena hippurus. Dorado belongs to the order Perciformes, which contains many popular food fish like tuna, mackerel and groupers.
Dorado is the only species in its genus Coryphaena. It is one of two members of the Coryphaenidae family, along with the pompano dolphinfish.
Common Names and Synonyms
This fish is known by many different regional names across the world, including:
- Dorado (Spanish speaking countries)
- Mahi-mahi (Hawaiian)
- Dolphinfish (International)
- Lampuga (Italian)
- Lagarto (Portuguese)
- Tsuyita or Shiira (Japanese)
- Llam-llam (South Africa)
- Daourado or Douradinha (Brazil)
The most common English names are dorado and mahi-mahi. Dolphinfish is also used, but less frequently in non-scientific settings since it can confuse with marine mammals like dolphins.
The Biology of Dorado Fish
- Elongated body shape built for speed
- Dorsal fin runs along the length of the back
- Pectoral fins act like airplane wings
- Caudal (tail) fin is deeply forked
- Mouth contains conical teeth
- Scales are small and smooth
Dorado have a slender, streamlined physique that allows them to swim at high speeds to catch prey. Their bodies are specially adapted for their fast-paced lifestyle.
The most striking feature of dorado is their brilliant colors. The body is an iridescent blue-green while the head, fins and underside are golden yellow. Shades can range from bright emerald to deep sapphire blue.
Life Cycle and Reproduction
- Fast growth rate
- Reach sexual maturity quickly
- Short lifespan of 4-5 years
- Spawn year-round in warm waters
- Males and females release eggs and sperm simultaneously
- Fertilized eggs hatch quickly, in about 24 hours
- Larvae feed on zooplankton
Dorado grow incredibly fast, reaching full adult size of 20-45 lbs in just 4-5 months. They have a rapid life cycle, able to reproduce within their first year.
Spawning takes place when water temperatures are 78°F or higher. The estimated number of eggs released can range from 80,000 to 1 million per spawning. Such high fecundity is key to maintaining healthy populations given their short lifespan.
Diet and Feeding Habits
- Voracious predators
- Opportunistic feeders
- Diet consists mainly of fish, crustaceans and cephalopods
- Common preys include flying fish, crabs, squid, mackerel and more
- Hunt using their speed, agility and excellent vision
- Unique cooperative hunting behaviors
Dorado are aggressive predators that relentlessly chase down prey. Using their superior speed and agility, they hunt in packs to herd and corral fish into tight balls. This allows them to gobble up large numbers of fish at once easily. Their cooperative hunting skills and opportunistic feeding makes them highly effective predators.
Habitat and Distribution
Dorado fish have a circumtropical distribution, meaning they are found throughout tropical and subtropical waters around the world. Specifically, their range extends across:
- Atlantic Ocean
- Indian Ocean
- Pacific Ocean
- Caribbean Sea
- Gulf of Mexico
- Mediterranean Sea
Within their range, dorado inhabit open waters and prefer offshore habitats around structure like floating debris, sargassum and feeding fronts. They are most abundant in warm waters between 20°N and 20°S latitude.
Dorado Fishing Hotspots
Some top destinations for trophy Dorado fishing include:
Florida Keys – The Islamorada region offers prolific dorado fishing from March to September. Anglers can hook Bull Mahi over 40 lbs here.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – Come July through October, schools of monster mahi-mahi show up just offshore of Cabo. This area produces lots of 50+ lb dorado.
Ecuador – Year-round dorado fishing is possible off the Ecuadorian coast. Some prime spots are Salinas, Manta, and Isla de La Plata. Fish commonly reach 35 lbs.
Costa Rica – Quepos and Los Suenos are exceptional spots to hook acrobatic mahi-mahi from November to April. Bulls over 60 lbs are possible.
Hawaii – The Kona coast sees dorado action from May to October. The pristine waters here yield beautiful green-colored mahi-mahi.
Dorado Fishing in Florida
The Sunshine State offers world-class dorado fishing, especially in the Florida Keys. The iconic Seven Mile Bridge between Marathon and Islamorada is a hot spot for hooking mahi-mahi averaging 15-25 lbs from March through June. Larger bulls are common later in summer.
Other top spots are Jupiter Inlet, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami for great Mahi-Mahi action just a few miles offshore. Look for debris lines, weed lines or floating objects to find schools of eager mahi. Trolling with ballyhoo or drift fishing with live bait are effective techniques.
Dorado Fishing in San Diego
San Diego provides easy access to amazing summer and fall mahi fishing. Find mahi-mahi 8-12 miles offshore in more than 250 feet of water. July through September are prime months to catch these acrobatic fish off Southern California.
The area near the Coronado Islands and Mexico border from Point Loma to Mission Bay tends to hold large concentrations of mahi. Look for kelp paddies or drifting debris offshore to locate mahi. Slow trolling with cedar plugs and other artificial lures can entice ferocious strikes.
Dorado Fishing in Argentina
From December through May, anglers flock to Argentina’s Atlantic coast in search of world record mahi. Hot spots include Mar del Plata, Pinamar, and Necochea, which offer fishing access to deep canyons that hold giant 50+ lb bull mahis. Slow trolling with live bait is extremely effective.
In addition to massive mahis, anglers can find a slew of other game fish like tuna, marlin and sea bass. It’s an incredible offshore fishery.
Dorado Fish vs. Mahi-Mahi: The Name Game
The naming of dorado fish causes a lot of confusion. Let’s clear up the mystery behind this popular game fish.
Why is Dorado Called Mahi-Mahi?
Mahi-mahi is the Hawaiian name for this species. In Hawaiian, “mahi” means strong and “mahi mahi” means very strong. This refers to their powerful fighting ability when hooked.
The name mahi-mahi eventually spread through the Pacific and became popular among English speakers as an alternative to dorado. Now both terms are used interchangeably worldwide.
Is Dorado and Mahi-Mahi the Same?
Yes, dorado and mahi-mahi refer to the same species of fish. They are simply two different common names for Coryphaena hippurus. There is no biological difference between a fish called dorado or mahi-mahi – they are identical in every way.
Nomenclature and Language Variations
As mentioned earlier, this species goes by many other regional names across languages and cultures. This can create confusion, but all the names ultimately trace back to the single species Coryphaena hippurus.
Dorado Fish in English
In English, the most frequently used names are:
- Dolphinfish (more scientific terminology)
Mahi-mahi is Hawaiian in origin, while dorado comes from the Spanish name. Dolphinfish refers to their physical resemblance to dolphins, although they are unrelated.
El Dorado Fish
Some sources hypothesize that “dorado” evolved from the term “El Dorado”, meaning “golden one” in Spanish. This likely refers to the golden hue of dorado flesh.
However, there is no concrete evidence that dorado were the actual basis of the El Dorado legend. But the glowing, gold-colored meat does resemble the idea of a “golden fish.”
Regardless of origins, dorado and mahi-mahi can be used interchangeably in English. Just be aware that outside North America, mahi-mahi may not always be understood.
The Colorful World of Dorado
Dorado fish are prized by anglers not just for their fighting spirit but also their stunning colors. But did you know they can actually change color? Here’s a look at the chameleon-like abilities of this beautiful fish.
Color Changes in Dorado Fish
In water, dorado exhibit an iridescent green-blue hue across the body while the belly and fins remain golden yellow. But once caught and brought onboard a boat, they flash through a mesmerizing color show.
Within minutes, the body transforms from blue to pale grey, then a mosaic of yellow, green, and blue as they expire. This unique color-changing phenomenon has mystified many an angler.
Dorado Fish Color Change
So what causes this spectacular transformation? It comes down to pigment cells called chromatophores that contain yellow, blue, and silvery pigments.
- In the water, the blue pigment is dominant, masking the yellows.
- When caught, stress hormones trigger the yellow pigments to spread and override the blue.
- As they die, the blues reappear in patches, creating the mosaic effect.
This color shift happens involuntarily due to chemical changes in the fish’s body.
Dorado Fish Dying Changing Colors
The chromatic display only occurs in dying fish right after being caught. A healthy live dorado in the water won’t change color like this.
The process is often called “false dying colors” since it’s not the true natural coloring of a living fish. It’s a transient effect in response to being caught. But it has cemented the dorado’s reputation as one of the most vividly-colored game fish.
Types of Dorado
Within a school, Dorado can be categorized into four types based on coloration and sex:
Bull Dorado – Brilliant green-blue males over 30 lbs. Most vivid coloring.
Cow Dorado – More muted blue-green females. Lower weight range.
King Dorado – Extremely rare. Older deep violet-hued males over 70 lbs.
Platinum Dorado – Very rare albino mutation with silver white scales.
Bull Dorado Fish
Bull dorado are the most sought-after type by anglers. Males over 30 lbs with intense blue-green coloration signal a mature, dominant fish. Their muscular build and acrobatics make them a prize catch.
King Dorado Fish
A dorado “king” is an elder male that has been feeding and growing over multiple years. They are deep purple-blue with massive builds up to 6 feet long. Kings over 100 lbs are the holy grail for dorado anglers but almost never seen.
Platinum Dorado Fish
The platinum morph is an extremely rare genetic mutation that inhibits melanin and makes the body silver white. They lack the yellow pigment and dazzling colors of normal dorado. Only a handful have ever been documented.
Royal Dorado Fish
Some use the term “royal” dorado to describe a king. However, royal is not a formally defined type and refers to a mammoth, elder male dorado. A royal could be considered 80 lbs or more.
Culinary Uses of Dorado
Beyond its sporting appeal, dorado is also a top eating fish cherished by chefs and seafood lovers. Here’s an overview of its fabulous flavor and how to cook it.
Is Dorado Good Eating Fish?
Dorado are considered one of the best eating fish in the world. The flesh has a mildly sweet flavor and moist, large-flaked texture when cooked. Its versatility makes it suitable for grilling, sautéing, baking or use in ceviche.
Dorado Fish Taste
The lean, white fillets have a taste often described as a cross between dolphinfish and halibut. The meat has moderate fat content which keeps it tender. Freshness is key, as the flavor declines rapidly in frozen fish.
How to Cook Dorado Fish
- Sashimi or Ceviche – Thin sliced or cubed raw dorado marinated in citrus juices.
- Grilled – Quickly grilled over high heat. Baste with herbs and oil to prevent sticking.
- Baked – Roast in the oven at 400°F for 20 minutes with seasoning.
- Pan-Seared – Cook skin-side down first then finish in the oven.
- Tacos – Dice into chunks and add to corn tortillas with pico de gallo.
Dorado Fish Recipes
- Lemon Butter Baked Mahi-Mahi – Top fillets with lemon slices, dill and butter then bake.
- Jerk Spiced Dorado Tacos – Rub fillets with jerk seasoning and pan sear to serve in flour tortillas.
- Ceviche Dorado Bowl – Dice dorado into lime juice, onion, avocado and tomato.
- Miso Glazed Mahi-Mahi – Marinate fillets in a sweet miso sauce then broil or grill.
- Blackened Mahi Sandwich – Coat fillets with Cajun seasoning then sauté to serve on buns.
Dorado Fish Price and Market Availability
In the US, fresh dorado fillets cost $14-$20 per pound. Availability peaks between May and September when US fishing is most productive. Frozen fillets are more affordable at $10-$15 per pound.
Dorado is also sold whole and in steak cuts. Due to its popularity, it can be found at most fish markets when in season. Try local restaurants for a taste of just-caught mahi-mahi while on vacation in tropical destinations.
Fishing for Dorado
Dorado offer thrilling sport fishing adventures in tropical waters around the world. Here’s an overview of how to target and catch these acrobatic fish:
Fishing Techniques and Gear
Trolling – Pulling lures or live bait to mimic injured baitfish. Most productive technique.
Drift Fishing – Floating live baits in current lines and weed edges.
Casting – Throw popping plugs, spoons and jigs near structure.
Fly Fishing – Ideal for light tackle. Use streamer flies and poppers.
Gear – Spinning rods or conventional rods paired with 30-50 lb. braided line.
Dorado Fish Mount
Due to their stunning colors, many anglers choose to memorialize their trophy mahi-mahi in a fish mount. Full body mounts or half mounts of leaping mahi make spectacular wall art.
Popular Fishing Locations
Top spots for hooking acrobatic dorado include:
- Gulf of Mexico
- Caribbean Sea
- Florida Keys
- Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
- Costa Rica
Target areas with floating debris, weed lines, rigs, buoys and temperature breaks.
Dorado Fishing Florida
When fishing Florida, aim for offshore waters around the Gulf Stream starting in March. Troll around structure with cedar plugs, spoons and ballyhoo to get bit. Top areas include Islamorada, Jupiter Inlet and Fort Lauderdale.
Dorado Fishing San Diego
In San Diego, head 8-20 miles offshore from Mission Bay down to Imperial Beach in summer months. Look for kelp paddies or porpoise schools to find mahi. Troll jet head lures, cedar plugs and live sardines or mackerel.
Environmental and Health Concerns
Sustainability and Conservation Status
Dorado are not currently considered overfished. Their rapid growth helps maintain healthy stocks. However, increased fishing pressure has led to some localized depletions. Buying selectively from sustainable fisheries is recommended.
Health Risks and Food Safety
Dorado is safe to eat in moderation. It contains moderate mercury levels, so limit intake to 2-3 servings per month. Look for fresh fillets without discoloration or strong odors. Consume within 2 days of catch, or freeze for longer storage.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about this colorful and delicious fish:
What Kind of Fish is a Dorado?
Dorado is a species of fish in the Coryphaenidae family, genus Coryphaena. It’s classified as a ray-finned fish and is closely related to billfish like marlin and swordfish.
Is Dorado Fish Freshwater or Saltwater?
Dorado are saltwater fish found in tropical and subtropical oceans around the world. They are pelagic fish that live in the upper layers of the open sea. Dorado do not inhabit freshwater environments.
How Fast do Dorado Fish Grow?
Dorado grow incredibly quickly, reaching maturity and full size within 4-5 months. Their growth rate exceeds most other fish. They can gain over 2 pounds per week.
What Eats Dorado Fish?
As juveniles, dorado fall prey to a variety of predatory fish like sharks, marlin and tuna. As adults they have few predators due to their large size and speed. Their major threats are large sharks and human fishermen.
Are Dorado Good to Eat?
Dorado are considered one of the best eating fish in the world. Their fillets are moist and flaky with a mildly sweet, delicious flavor. They are excellent grilled, baked or fried.
Why are Dorado Fish Colors So Bright?
The brilliant colors of dorado are thought to serve multiple purposes. Their iridescent blues and greens provide camouflage in the water. Their golden hues mimic light streaming down from the ocean surface.
Do Dorado Fish Change Color?
Yes, dorado exhibit a spectacular color change right after being caught, shifting from blue to grey then a mosaic of greens, blues and yellows. This happens involuntarily as the fish dies.
How Long do Dorado Fish Live?
Dorado are fast growing with a short lifespan of only 4-5 years on average. Their rapid maturity allows them to spawn repeatedly during their short life.
Why Dorado Fish is a Must-Experience for Anglers and Foodies Alike? With their stunning rainbow colors, acrobatic leaps, world-class fighting spirit and incredible culinary qualities, it’s easy to see why dorado have become one of the most iconic and coveted game fish on Earth. This magnificent creature offers equal thrills for anglers and eaters alike.
Whether fishing the waters of Costa Rica or enjoying seared mahi at a seaside restaurant, dorado create memories that last a lifetime. Their global distribution means adventurers almost anywhere can seek out this tropical prize. From biology to fishing tips, this guide covers everything there is know about this unique fish. The next step is to head out on the water and experience the wonder of the dorado firsthand!