Sheepshead have many nicknames … sheepies, convicts and southern sheeps to name a few. The sheepshead is a member of the porgy and seabream family (Sparidae), which is comprised of approximately 120 species distributed worldwide.
The distribution of the sheepshead in the western Atlantic Ocean includes coastal waters from Nova Scotia (Canada) through the Gulf of Mexico with the densest populations occurring off southwest Florida. Sheepshead are also found, albeit in much lesser numbers, off the Caribbean coasts of Central and South America, south to Brazil. Sheepshead are absent in the Bahamas, West Indies, Grenada, and Bermuda.
Primarily occurring inshore around rock pilings, jetties, mangrove roots, and piers as well as in tidal creeks, the euryhaline sheepshead prefers brackish waters. It seeks out warmer spots near spring outlets and river discharges and sometimes enters freshwater during the winter months. This fish moves to offshore areas in later winter and early spring for spawning, which sometimes occurs over artificial reefs and navigation markers. Juveniles live in seagrass flats and over mud bottoms. Recorded among those species that perish during periodic low oxygen fish kills, the sheepshead is not particularly tolerant of low levels of dissolved oxygen.