Cunner are moderately slender fish with a distinctly pointed snout and a long dorsal fin that runs from the gill covers to the caudal peduncle. This dorsal fin features spines towards the head and softer rays towards the tail. It has a thick and distinct peduncle (narrow portion that connects body to tail) and ranges from mottled red to green or brown. The colors vary due to the environment. It is closely related to New England’s other wrasse, the Tautog, however it is smaller and not as stout in appearance. They also have smaller lips than the Tautog, and if you look closely, you’ll notice most have an overbite with several teeth showing. They can grow up to over a foot and a half in length, however, most cap out in the 6-10” range. Juveniles have a distinct black spot on their dorsal fin that fades with maturity.
You’ll find Cunner in most of our local habitats, though they favor eelgrass beds and rock piles. Though often seen in large groups, Cunner are not schooling fish.
Cunner are a year-round resident of New England, but we rarely see them in shallow waters during the winter months. They were once a commercially sought after fish, but now are more frequently considered a nuisance…as they have a propensity for stealing bait off fishermen’s hooks. Cunner are omnivores feeding on molluscs, crustaceans, small fish, and even eelgrass.