Surfperches are distributed in coastal areas of the North Pacific: three species are found around Japan and Korea, and 21 species are found in North America from Alaska to the Baja Peninsula. One species, the shiner perch (Cymatogaster aggregata), enters brackish and fresh waters. Another species, the tule perch (Hysterocarpus traskii) is entirely confined to freshwater lakes and rivers in California.

Cichlids are distributed in the tropical and subtropical regions of most Gondwanan fragments, including much of South America and Africa, Madagascar, India, and Sri Lanka. They also occur naturally in Syria, Iran, Israel, Central America, North America (Texas), and the West Indies. Human introductions have led to the establishment of numerous cichlid species in localities outside their natural range. Owing to their popularity in aquaculture, the tilapiines in particular have been spread around the globe, often with devastating consequences for endemic fishes. Various tilapiines now thrive in the fresh waters of Madagascar, Mexico, Florida, and much of Southeast Asia, as well as the coastal waters of southern California.

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