Fish assemblages in an insular (preserved) and a continental (disturbed) sandy beach were compared to assess any changes that could be attributed to anthropogenic influences and/or the proximity of the fish spawning grounds. We expected that the closer geographical position to the spawning grounds and the small amount of anthropogenic disturbance on the insular beach would be likely to provide more suitable conditions for early fish development compared with the continental beach. A total of 192 samples (96 in each beach) were taken, yielding 68 fish species, mostly young-of-the-year. Fish assemblage structure differed significantly between the two beaches. Moreover, the insular beach had higher number of species, number of individuals and biomass compared with the continental beach. The commercially important Clupeiformes Harengula clupeola, Anchoa tricolor and Anchoa januaria, Perciformes Micropogonias furnieri and Mugiliformes Mugil liza were typical species on the insular beach, partitioning the seasonal use of the beach. On the other hand, a few abundant non-commercial species, mainly the Atheriniformes Atherinella brasiliensis and the Perciformes Eucinostomus argenteus and Diapterus rhombeus, occurred all year round at the continental beach. The high fish richness and abundance and the more conspicuous species turnover across seasons on the insular beach are probable indications of more complex and dynamic organization of the communities favored by better geographical position and less anthropogenic disturbance in the area.