The mojarras (Eucinostomus) are a widespread group of coastal fishes of controversial taxonomy because of similarities in their external morphology. In the present study, we assessed the genetic diversity of species and populations of Eucinostomus using DNA barcodes using a systematic and phylogeographic context. In total, 416 COI sequences of all valid Eucinostomus representatives were analysed based on public databases and collected specimens from the north-eastern coast of Brazil (Western South Atlantic). Several cases of misidentification were detected in the barcode dataset (E. argenteus, E. harengulus, E. gula, E. dowii and E. jonesii) that could account for the taxonomic issues in this genus. In contrast, we identified four molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTUs), with divergence above 2% in the Western Atlantic, that correspond to cryptic forms within E. argenteus, E. harengulus, E. gula and E. melanopterus. These data suggest that Plio-Pleistocene events (rise of the Panama isthmus, Amazonas outflow and sea-level fluctuations) played a major role in the diversification of mojarras. While subtle morphological differences have been used as proxies to discriminate Eucinostomus species, the genetic data proved to be efficient in differentiating them and revealing potentially undescribed taxa. Therefore, we recommend that further taxonomic studies in mojarras should incorporate DNA-based evidence.