Maintaining optimal visual performance is a difficult task in the photodynamic coastal and estuarine waters in which western North Atlantic sciaenid fishes support substantial commercial and recreational fisheries. Unavoidable tradeoffs exist between visual sensitivity and resolution, yet sciaenid visual systems have not been characterized despite strong species-specific ecomorphological and microhabitat differentiation. We therefore used electroretinographic techniques to describe the light sensitivities, temporal properties, and spectral characteristics of the visual systems of five sciaenids common to Chesapeake Bay, USA: weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus), red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) and spot (Leiostomus xanthurus). Benthic sciaenids exhibited higher sensitivities and broader dynamic ranges in white light V/logI experiments than more pelagic forms. Sensitivities of the former were at the lower (more sensitive) end of an emerging continuum for coastal fishes. Flicker fusion frequency experiments revealed significant interspecific differences at maximum intensities that correlated with lifestyle and habitat, but no specific differences at dimmer intensities. Spectral responses of most sciaenids spanned 400-610 nm, with significant diel differences in weakfish and Atlantic croaker. Weakfish, a crepuscular predator, also responded to ultraviolet wavelengths; this characteristic may be more useful under less turbid conditions. Collectively, these results suggest that sciaenids are well adapted to the dynamic photoclimate of the coastal and estuarine waters they inhabit. However, the recent anthropogenic degradation of water quality in coastal environments, at a pace faster than the evolution of visual systems, has amplified the importance of characterizing visual function in managed aquatic fauna.