University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #WEC361

Freshwater Fish of New River, Belize1

Venetia Briggs-Gonzalez, Kyle Allen, and Frank J. Mazzotti2

Belize is home to an abundant diversity of freshwater fish species and is often considered a fishing paradise. The New River area is a popular freshwater fishing destination in the Orange Walk district of northern Belize. Here locals and visitors alike take to the lagoons and waterways for dinner or for good sportfishing. This guide highlights the most popular species in the area and will help people identify and understand these species. A fishing license is required for all fishers, so before casting be sure to check the local laws and regulations.


Megalops atlanticus

Adult size: 1–2.5 m (4–8 ft)

Figure 1. 

Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus).


Albert Kok,

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Tarpon are large fish that can weigh up to 127kg (280 lbs). They are covered in large, silver scales and have no spines in their fins. They have a broad mouth with a prominent lower jaw. Tarpon are fighters and may jump out of the water several times when hooked. They are found in fresh and saltwater.

Bay Snook

Petenia splendida, bocona

Adult size: 45–50 cm (18–20 in)

Figure 2. 

Bay snook (Petenia splendida).


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

The bay snook is a popular fishing species. It is a brilliant green-gold with black spots and large, rounded fins. A red color morph also exists. It has a highly protrusible jaw—which means it can thrust its jaw forward. The bay snook’s jaw extends to more than a quarter of its entire body. It is often mistaken for the South American peacock bass, but is easily distinguished because the bay snook has a single dorsal fin instead of two.

Blue Tilapia

Oreochromis aureus, tilapia

Adult size: 13–20 cm (5–8 in)

Figure 3. 

Blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus).


Victor Atkins,

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

This edible, fleshy fish can be identified by its overall blue color. Adults can weigh up to 2.7kg (6 lbs). This exotic cichlid is abundant in both fresh and brackish waters.

Mayan Cichlid

Cichlasoma urophthalmus, pinta

Adult size: 25–27 cm (10–11 in)

Figure 4. 

Mayan cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmus).


DATZ. R. Stawikowski,

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

This popular food fish has dark vertical bars and a large black eyespot with a blue border at the tail base. The first dorsal and anal fins have many sharp spines. They are territorial, aggressive and intensely colored when breeding.

Firemouth Cichlid

Thorichthys meeki, cabezona, panya gial

Adult size: 10–12 cm (4–5 in)

Figure 5. 

Firemouth cichlid (Thorichthys meeki).


DATZ. R. Stawikowski,

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

This commonly fished cichlid has a very bright orange-red coloration beneath its jaws. The rest of the body is blue-gray with dark blotches on the sides. They have protrusible jaws, and males engage in territorial displays.

Mayan Catfish

Sciades (Ariopsis) assimilis, bagre

Adult size: 25–35 cm (10–14 in)

Figure 6. 

Mayan catfish (Sciades (Ariopsis) assimilis).


Granados-Dieseldorff and Christensen,

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

This heavy-bodied, edible species has a large dorsal fin and three pairs of barbels (whiskers). It is grey-blue with a white underside and is predominantly found in freshwater, but sometimes inhabits brackish water.

Bigmouth Sleeper

Gobiomorus dormitor, mudsleeper, dormilon

Adult size: 30–60 cm (12–24 in)

Figure 7. 

Bigmouth sleeper (Gobiomorus dormitor).


Juan Miguel Artigas Azas

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Sleepers are camouflaged, ambush predators that are found at the bottom of the riverbed and also in brackish and saltwater. They are fleshy fish that are prized for eating and can be identified by their 9 soft dorsal rays, 6 dorsal spines, and rounded caudal fin.

Atlantic Silverside

Menidia menidia, sprat

Adult size: 13–15 cm (5–6 in)

Figure 8. 

Twospot livebearer (Heterandria bimaculata).


Juan Miguel Artigas Azas

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

This small, schooling species is often found in brackish water. It serves as prey for larger fish and is eaten whole in local villages. It is translucent with a silver horizontal stripe running the entire length of the body and a forked caudal fin.

Yucatan Gambusia

Gambusia yucatana, billum, bute, mosquitofish

Adult size: 5–8 cm (2–3 inches)

Figure 9. 

Yucatan gambusia (Gambusia yucatana).


Juan Miguel Artigas Azas

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Like other mosquitofish species, it is small and slender, with a thick body that tapers beyond the anal fin. It is covered in large, translucent, silver-brown scales that have many small black spots toward the tail. Females are larger than males.

Pike Killifish

Belonesox belizanus, topminnow

Adult size: 7–20cm (3–8 in)

Figure 10. 

Pike killifish (Belonesox belizanus).


Granados-Dieseldorff et al. 2012

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

The pike killifish has a long, upturned lower jaw and many needlelike teeth. It has an elongate body with a flat back and is light beige with green, iridescent scales and tiny black spots on the sides. It has large eyes and a black spot at the base of its fan-shaped tail. Females are much larger than males.

For More Information

Fishing licenses, laws, and regulations:​

Tourism information and licensed fishing guides:



This document is WEC361, one of a series of the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 2015. Visit the EDIS website at


Venetia Briggs-Gonzalez, research ecologist; Kyle Allen, wildlife biologist; and Frank J. Mazzotti, professor; Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, UF/IFAS Extension, Davie, FL 33314.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.