Save money on your next flight

Skyscanner is the world’s leading flight search engine, helping you find the cheapest flights to destinations all over the world.

Butterfish is a delicious, flaky white fish found in the waters surrounding the Hawaiian islands. If you’re looking for a quick answer, butterfish refers to two similar species – the black butterfish (also known as Hawaiian butterfish) and the white butterfish (also known as the broadbill).

This article will provide a comprehensive overview of everything you need to know about butterfish in Hawaii. We’ll cover what it looks like, where it lives, how it tastes, how to catch it, nutritional information, and some recipe ideas to try it yourself.

Identifying Butterfish in Hawaii

Distinctive Features of Butterfish

Butterfish found in Hawaiian waters have a few distinctive features that help identify them. They typically have small, compact bodies that are less than 6 inches long. Their most noticeable trait is their yellow body coloration, ranging from a light lemon hue to a deep goldenrod, which is how they get their “butter” namesake.

Butterfish have a single dorsal fin located far back on their bodies, along with small pectoral and caudal (tail) fins. Their eyes are unusually large compared to the rest of their head and body size. These tropical fish have tiny, smooth scales and a slender, tapered profile when viewed from the side.

Differences Between Black and White Butterfish

There are two main varieties of butterfish found around the Hawaiian Islands – the black butterfish (Psenes pellucidus) and the more common white butterflyfish (Chaetodon miliaris). As their names suggest, the primary difference lies in their coloration.

Black butterfish have dusky brown to black bodies with faint vertical bands, along with black fins. White butterflyfish feature bright white bodies with narrow black bands and rows of spots, along with a prominent black patch by their eyes.

While black butterfish tend to inhabit deeper offshore waters, white butterflyfish stick to shallow coral reefs closer to shore.

In terms of size, black butterfish reach around 5 inches in length while white butterflyfish average about 4 inches. Both species have deep, flattened bodies that allow them to hide in tight spaces between corals when threatened.

Their diets also differ, with black butterfish feeding on zooplankton and white butterflyfish preferring small invertebrates and coral polyps.

Habitats and Behavior

Where to Find Butterfish in Hawaii

Butterfish are abundant in the clear, shallow waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. They prefer protected bays and lagoons with sandy or rubble bottoms at depths ranging from 3 to 100 feet. Prime butterfish habitat includes Maunalua Bay, Hanauma Bay, Waikiki, and Kaneohe Bay on Oahu, as well as many sites around Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and Kauai.

Butterfish tend to hang out near coral reefs and rocks that offer shelter. They often swim in loose groups called schools. Within these schools, they exhibit unique sideways swimming behaviors to maintain visual contact.

Sometimes butterfish will follow other fish that stir up tasty invertebrates hiding in the sand that butterfish like to gobble up.

Migratory Patterns and Reproduction

Not much is known about butterfish migration in Hawaii. However, research indicates Hawaiian butterfish do not migrate long distances but instead move between shallow feeding grounds and deeper offshore habitat.

They may migrate short distances due to seasonal food availability or to reach spawning aggregation sites.

The main Hawaii butterfish spawning season occurs in summer, when water temperatures peak. During this time, hundreds to thousands of butterfish may gather in massive spawning aggregations. Butterfish exhibit broadcast spawning, simultaneously releasing eggs and sperm into the water column, where fertilization occurs.

Within 24 hours, the fertilized eggs hatch into larvae that eventually mature into juvenile fish.

According to data from the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, the butterfish population around Oahu is considered currently healthy and self-sustaining. Protecting coral reef habitat and limiting overfishing are key to ensuring future generations can enjoy catching butterfish in Hawaii.

Culinary Uses and Nutrition

Cooking Methods and Flavor

Butterfish is a versatile fish that can be prepared in many ways. Due to its delicate flavor, simple cooking methods like sautéing, baking, broiling or grilling work well to highlight the buttery taste without overpowering it.

Butterfish has a sweet, mild flavor with a smooth, fatty texture that melts in your mouth, similar to sea bass or red snapper.

When cooking butterfish, brevity is key – extended cooking times tend to dry out the flesh. A light dusting of flour or cornstarch before pan-frying helps achieve a crispy exterior while keeping the interior moist. Lemon, garlic, parsley, dill and capers make excellent flavor pairings.

Butterfish also takes well to Thai and Japanese-inspired flavors like ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil. Steaming or poaching thicker butterfish fillets is a gentle cooking method that helps retain moisture.

In Hawaii, a popular local preparation is Misoyaki Butterfish, where fillets are marinated in a sweet miso-based sauce then broiled or grilled until caramelized. Butterfish also shines when prepared as sashimi or in Hawaiian-style poke bowls paired with seaweed, tobiko roe, green onions and chili paste.

Nutritional Value and Health Benefits

Butterfish is an excellent source of lean protein, providing over 20 grams in a 3 ounce cooked serving. It has one of the highest omega-3 fatty acid levels among fish, with approximately 1 gram per serving.

The beneficial omega-3s found in butterfish have powerful anti-inflammatory effects that protect cardiovascular health and brain function.

In addition, butterfish contains:

  • Selenium – supports thyroid hormone production and immune system function
  • Phosphorus – supports bone health and kidney function
  • Niacin – converts food into energy and promotes healthy skin
  • Vitamin B12 – essential for nerve tissue and red blood cell health
  • Potassium – regulates fluid balance and blood pressure

With its stellar nutrition profile, butterfish provides high quality protein plus a host of vitamins and minerals in a low calorie, sustainable seafood option. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week as part of a heart-healthy diet.

Fishing for Butterfish in Hawaii

Best Times and Locations

Butterfish are most abundant in Hawaiian waters during the summer and fall months when water temperatures are warmest. The best times to catch them are from June through October. Popular fishing spots include the reefs and channels along the south and west shores of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.

Experienced fishermen recommend trying areas like Maalaea Bay and Lahaina Harbor on Maui as well as Hanalei Bay on Kauai. On Oahu, productive areas to fish include Hanauma Bay, Ala Moana Beach Park, and the reefs near the Waianae coast.

Legal Regulations

There are a few regulations for catching butterfish in Hawaii that anglers should be aware of:

  • Butterfish is designated as a foodfish by the State of Hawaii, meaning there are no closed seasons or size restrictions.
  • There is a combined bag limit of 20 foodfish per person per day in aggregate.
  • Legal fishing methods are hook-and-line gear, traps, and certain types of nets.
  • Spearfishing and scuba gear may not be used to catch butterfish.

It’s important that fishermen obtain and review Hawaii fishing regulations to remain compliant. Regulations help maintain healthy butterfish populations for generations to come.

Catch and Release Practices

While regulations allow anglers to keep butterfish they catch, practicing responsible catch-and-release fishing helps preserve butterfish populations. If practicing catch-and-release:

  • Use barbless single hooks which allow easier hook removal.
  • Quickly reel in and release the fish to minimize stress and injury.
  • Consider keeping just enough for a fresh meal, releasing all others.
  • Revive exhausted fish by holding them upright in water before release.

Following these responsible practices promotes sustainability of Hawaii’s precious marine resources like butterfish for the future.

Butterfish Recipes

Grilled Butterfish

Butterfish is a delicately flavored fish that is excellent for grilling. Its flesh holds up well on the grill and develops a lovely crispy skin. Here is a simple recipe for delicious grilled butterfish:

  • Pat dry 1 lb butterfish fillets and brush both sides with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and any other spices you enjoy.
  • Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. Place fillets skin-side down and grill for 4-5 minutes until skin is crispy. Flip and grill another 2-3 minutes until fish flakes easily with a fork.
  • Serve grilled butterfish with lemon wedges, herb butter, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or your choice of sauces and sides.

As a lean, white-fleshed fish, butterfish tends to cook quickly on the grill. Be careful not to overcook it. This is a great recipe for easy weeknight meals, backyard barbecues, or Hawaiian-inspired dishes. Enjoy catching and cooking up this buttery Hawaiian delicacy!

Butterfish Poke Bowl

Butterfish makes an amazing addition to traditional Hawaiian poke bowls. Its rich, fatty texture stands up well when diced into cubes and paired with crunchy vegetables, sauces, and seasonings. Try this flavorful butterfish poke bowl recipe:

  • Dice 1 lb sashimi-grade butterfish fillets into 1/2 inch cubes.
  • Toss fish gently with desired sauces like soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, Sriracha, etc.
  • Add diced mix-ins: mango, avocado, cucumber, green onion, etc.
  • Serve over sushi rice and garnish bowl with black sesame seeds, furikake, Chili flakes, etc.

Butterfish holds its shape nicely when cutting into poke cubes compared to tuna or salmon. Its rich taste stands out among the Hawaiian flavors. For spicier bowls, add some fire with Chili peppers, wasabi, or Sriracha sauce. Customize each bowl with unlimited topping combinations.

Butterfish Sashimi

The buttery, smooth texture of butterfish makes it an absolute delight to enjoy as Hawaiian sashimi. Here is a simple preparation recipe:

  • Slice 1 lb sashimi-grade butterfish fillets into 1/4 inch thick pieces.
  • Arrange slices neatly on a serving platter.
  • Garnish with sliced green onions, daikon radishes, shredded carrots, etc.
  • Serve with sides like tamari soy sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger, and rice crackers.

When enjoyed raw, the umami richness of butterfish really shines through. Its soft texture practically melts in your mouth. Take your time to savor the smooth, delicate slices of this Hawaiian specialty. For added flavor, try topping pieces with a touch of soy sauce, lemon juice, or pureed avocado.


Now you know all about the delicious butterfish found in Hawaiian waters. With two similar species to choose from, butterfish is a tasty local fish that can be prepared many ways. We covered identification, habitats, nutrition, fishing tips, and some recipe ideas to enjoy Hawaii’s butterfish.

We hope this guide gives you plenty of information to identify butterfish, catch it yourself, and cook it deliciously on your next Hawaiian vacation.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts