For thousands of years, humans have turned to rivers, lakes, seas and oceans for sustenance.
Believe it or not, we’re all dependent on fish for nourishment, wealth and ecosystem health.
We need those floppy, googly-eyed water creatures to survive.
No matter where you travel in the Spanish-speaking world, you’re guaranteed to come across fish—and the names they’re called in Spanish—in some way or another.
Maybe your new Spanish-speaking friends would like to visit an aquarium or a museum of natural history and sciences with you.
Most importantly, you may well find yourself on a beach or riverbed, soaking up the sun and diving into the water where fish abound.
As you can see, there’s more to fish than meets the eye. Our wet, scaly friends are deeply intertwined with human life. That’s why it behooves any learner to pick up the Spanish names for fish that have a presence in our lives, environments and cuisines!
But Still, Why Should I Learn Spanish Fish Names?
- Get to know countries through nature. In case you haven’t heard, the biodiversity in Spain and Latin America is off the chain. There are numerous “hotspots” of biodiversity here, where there are high numbers of endemic species (native to only these regions).
- Meet the fish! Tons of great activities you’ll want to take part in while traveling will put you face-to-fin with local fish. Snorkeling, scuba diving, “swim with the sharks” attractions, boat tours, fishing excursions and other water-related activities will all let you peer into another world underwater. If you know fish names, you’ll be better equipped to understand your tour guide’s fun facts and regale your friends with tales of adventures later. Also, you’ll be able to watch “Buscando a Nemo” (Finding Nemo) more easily, which is a huge plus in my book. Talk about immersion!
- Eat delicious foods in Spanish-speaking countries. Coastal food everywhere is the bomb, but that’s not the beginning and end of fish dishes. Just imagine: Fresh salmon, melt-in-your-mouth swordfish filet, deep red tuna, stews, soups, broths and paellas—it can all be yours, if you know the proper terminology for ordering the fish you most want to eat.
- Know the importance of fish and fishing in cultures, lifestyles and livelihoods. Learn these words to relate to local people in many places around the world. Many communities have evolved around seafaring lifestyles, or have a long history of local fishing. Some have had their populations boom due to modern commercial fishing developments. Still others have focused their attention on maintaining traditional, organic and small-scale fishing practices, and continue to hand-weave nets and use other ancestral tools and methods. No matter the way they’ve gone, you can better understand any fishing community and the people who live within it by knowing how to understand and talk about species of fish.
An Introduction to the Fishiest Spanish Vocabulary
Before we jump into the fish names themselves, I’d like to give you an introduction to some other handy vocabulary that you’ll use when discussing fish in any capacity. Here, we’ll cover the three main ways you’ll talk about fish: (1) when observing them in their habitats, (2) when fishing and (3) when eating them!
Observing? Here’s what you need to know!
Let’s say you’re ready to dive into the deep blue sea and observe fish in action, in their hábitats (habitats). You’ll need to know vocabulary for ecosistemas (ecosystems) where las especies (the species) of los peces (fish) dwell. First, you’ll want to indicate where you’ve been observing those fish:
- el arroyo (the stream)
- el riachuelo (the creek)
- el río (the river)
- el lago (the lake)
- la laguna (the lagoon)
- el estuario (the estuary)
- la caleta (the cove)
- la bahía (the bay)
- el mar (the sea)
- el océano (the ocean)
You should also be sure to note if you were wandering in agua dulce (freshwater) or agua salada (saltwater). If you’re lucky, maybe you got the chance to explore near un arrecife de coral—also written as un arrecife coralino—or coral reef, which has altos niveles de biodiversidad (high levels of biodiversity).
Next, you’ll want to describe what those fish were up to, for example, if they were swimming around in un cardumen (a shoal, a group of various fish species) or un banco de peces (a school of fish, a group made up of one single species). It would be fascinating to watch some smaller fish avoiding los predadores (predators).
To identify which species you’ve found while out and about, you’ll need to look at certain physical features. For example:
- las aletas (fins)
- los radios de las aletas (fin rays)
- las escamas (scales)
- las manchas (spots)
- las rayas (stripes)
Fishing? Here’s what you need to know!
La pesca comercial (fishing) is a huge, exploding market. There’s pesca artesenal (artisanal fishing) and pesca industrial (industrial fishing). The gains of these fishing endeavors are sold internationally, in local supermarkets and in las pescaderías (fish markets). While you’re out shopping at the market, you’ll find tons of pescado del dia (fish of the day / fresh fish).
Separate from all this, you might engage in a different kind of fishing while on vacay—la pesca deportiva (sport fishing). Be sure to grab a caña de pescar (fishing rod / pole) and some convincing anzuelos / señuelos (lures). To learn more about fishing vocabulary, and fish vocabulary in general, check out the Panorama de Pesca, a popular Argentinian fishing magazine.
Eating? Here’s what you need to know!
Order yourself a delicious filete (filet) of something, but always watch out for las espinas (the bones)! Often, filets and whole fish are served up on a plate, with some little, skinny, nearly-invisible fish bones intact.
Here are some ways you might want to order fish off a menu.
- frito (fried)
- hervido (boiled)
- al horno (baked)
- a la parilla (grilled)
- a la sal (salted)
- al vapor (steamed)
- al ajillo (in garlic sauce)
- al escabeche (marinated, pickled)
- rebozado (battered, similar to tempura)
Oh, and don’t look twice if you see chicharrón de pescado—you might not usually enjoy chicharrones (pork rinds), but these delicious little fried fish bits are basically a more snackable version of pescado frito that’s deep fried in pork fat and is pure awesome.
Then, of course, you’ve got your liquid-based fish foods:
- sopa de pescado (fish soup)
- caldo de pescado (fish soup/broth)
- caldereta de pescado (fish stew)
- sancocho de pescado (fish soup/stew, traditionally cooked in Latin America)
- ceviche de pescado (a traditional coastal dish in parts of Mexico, Central America, and western South America, where fish is cured with citrus juices—not cooked!—and served with other fresh, natural ingredients)
And anything with the word marinero (sailor) or mixto at the end, just go for it. Ceviche mixto (mixed ceviche) has a mix of fish and seafood. Likewise, arroz marinero (sailor’s rice) is a fried rice dish loaded with various types of fish and seafood, usually whatever’s hanging out in the kitchen and needs to be cooked up.
Go Fish! 30 Spanish Fish Names Every Traveler Oughta Know
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FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
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1. La Anchoa
2. La Sardina
Sardines are sold in cans in Spanish-speaking countries, just like in our home countries. So, you can talk about people being squished together, just as you would in English, with the metaphor estar como sardinas en lata (to be like sardines in a can).
In Spanish-speaking countries, tuna is every bit as popularly eaten and sold in cans as it is elsewhere in the world. That means you can watch funny commercials or listen to catchy jingles to remember the word atún and other Spanish language words.
4. El Bacalao
This fish is so prevalent in cooking and culture, that it’s even a common last name! There’s also a cute Latin American saying that goes “¡Chao pescao, bacalao!” (Bye fish, bacalao!) which is the equivalent of our “See you later, alligator!”.
Dried, salted bacalao is found all over the Spanish-speaking world. One notable dish where it’s used is the Ecuadorian fanesca, a delicious stew featuring salty bacalao and 12 different types of grains and legumes, which is cooked for the Easter Holy Week.
5. La Trucha
In Mexico and parts of Central America, you can say “ponte trucha”—basically it’s an even more colloquial version of “ponte pilas.” Both expressions mean “look alive,” “be aware” or “open your eyes.”
6. El Salmón
7. El Pez Espada
This recognizable fish is also called by the Spanish name el espadarte.
8. La Tilapia
9. La Corvina
This fish has a tender white meat which makes it a primo selection for ceviche and any kind of soup or stew.
10. El/La Llampuga
Llampuga is a colloquial name for this fish in parts of Latin America where it’s more commonly fished (Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Central America) and even amongst Spanish-speaking Floridians, and the particle seems to flexibly change between el and la in speaking and writing. El dorado is another option.
11. El Lenguado
12. La Perca
13. El Pargo
14. El Jurel
Use this word to order your favorite rolls!
15. La Carpa
16. La Cachama
This type of fish is native to Amazonian rivers, so there’s no equivalent name in English. We commonly refer to it as cachama, pacu or tambaqui, all which have origins in Spanish and regional indigenous languages of the Amazon. If you’re heading on an Amazonian adventure, chances are you’ll feast on one of these big fish, fried with a side of yuca hervida (boiled yucca/cassava root).
17. El Bagre
This is another fish you’ll find on the menu more often in Amazonian regions, and most often served in a simple caldo de bagre (catfish soup/broth).
18. El Piraña
This is a great word for describing anything tiny that bites or nibbles, like a teething infant or poorly-behaved chihuahua.
19. El Barracuda
20. La Platija
21. La Merluza
While this is a popular Latin American choice as well, merluza is a go-to fish for restaurant dishes and home-cooked recipes in Spain.
22. El Mero
23. El Eglefino
24. El Arenque
25. La Macarela
Other common, colloquial words for this fish include la caballa (Latin America) and el verdel (Spain).
Carite is the specific mackerel variety known as “king mackerel,” and it’s a common word to spot on menus in Latin America.
26. La Aguja Azul/Blanca or El Marlín Azul/Blanco
English: Blue/White marlin
27. El Rape
English: Monk fish
28. El Pez Vela
29. El Tiburón
Here are a few kinds of sharks you might spot while traveling:
- tiburón martillo (hammerhead shark)
- tiburón tigre (tiger shark)
- tiburón ballena (whale shark)
- tiburón galapagueño (Galápagos shark)
30. El Pez Ángel
This fish is also sometimes called el escalar.
Well, there you have ’em!
Your catch of the day Spanish vocabulary, fresh out of the water.
Enjoy these fishy words while traveling, exploring and eating.
¡Chao pescao, bacalao!
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