Marine Management News Fish Identification Quiz

Welcome to the Marine Management News Fish Identification Quiz for August 2018! Here’s your chance to show off your fish identification knowledge and win a “Release At Depth” rockfish barotrauma cap and a copy of California’s Living Marine Resources: A Status Report. To qualify for the drawing, simply send the correct information to AskMarine@wildlife.ca.gov by September 30, 2018 identifying:

  • The species of the fish pictured below (scientific name) and an accepted common name, and
  • The daily bag limit, as found in the 2018-2019 Saltwater Sport Fishing regulations booklet

Be sure to enter “August MMN Fish Quiz” as the “Subject” of your e-mail. The winner will be selected during a random drawing from all correct answers received by September 30, 2018.

photo by D. Shigematsu


See the correct answer to the quiz.

This fish begins its life journey sometime between late autumn and early spring, when eggs are spawned and hatch off Mexico. Young fish likely drift with the currents into Southern California waters, similar to yellowtail or bonito.

This fish’s range extends from Peru in South America to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, although it is rarely seen north of Monterey, California. You may also see it in the southern portion of the Gulf of California, Mexico. This species often prefers a solitary existence near the rocky reefs and banks close to offshore islands, though it may also be found near kelp beds. Ancient Native American kitchen middens on San Clemente Island contain the otoliths (earbones) of this fish, indicating it has long been an important source of food for people.

Though commonly seen at 90- to 200-ft. depths, this fish can also be found in shallow subtidal areas, or as deep as 450 ft. Adult fish swim a few feet above the sea floor, dropping down occasionally to search for food such as small crabs, shrimp, and other crustaceans, as well as octopus and squid. It will also eat a variety of small fishes. In turn, this fish is preyed upon by larger fish, such as giant sea bass, albacore tuna, and sharks.

This fish can live to around 13 years of age, and reaches a maximum length of around 40 in. A fish this long weighs around 12 lb., however fish weighing more than 10 lb. are rarely seen. The current state record stands at 13 lb. 12 oz.

This species is caught by both commercial and recreational fishermen. The commercial catch peaked in 1926, when just over 368,000 lb. was landed. Commercial landings have not approached this level since. A live-fish market began in the late 1980s for this species, primarily because it was caught unintentionally along with target species such as California sheephead, cabezon, and nearshore rockfish. Even though this fish appears in both live and traditional markets, landings and demand have remained low. Commercial landings of this fish totaled less than 10,000 lb. in California for 2017.

Sport fishermen enjoy catching this fish, which is relatively easy to hook and usually provides a challenging fight. Peak recreational landings tend to occur after warm water El Niño events. Recreational landings far exceed commercial landings, with over 230,000 fish kept by California anglers in 2017.

This species is considered a good-eating fish; however, off California, fish that are caught around kelp beds may sometimes have bitter-tasting flesh. The bitterness cannot be removed regardless of the method used to clean, freeze, or cook the fish. This bitterness may be related to the fish’s diet, since it is apparently only present in fish caught around kelp beds, or in shallow water. It may be this unpredictable bitterness that has kept demand low for this fish on the commercial market.

man with salmon
Mr. Hillaker with a sizeable salmon.
photo courtesy H. Hillaker

UPDATE— OCTOBER 3   Congratulations go out to Herbert Hillaker of Sebastapol, California for correctly identifying the August 2018 mystery fish as an ocean whitefish, Caulolatilus princeps. The daily bag limit for ocean whitefish is 10 fish per person within the general bag limit of not more than 20 fish in combination of all species, per California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 28.58(b). You can find this section on page 32 of the 2018-2019 Saltwater Sport Fishing Regulations booklet.

Herbert, who has been fishing most of his life, retired from his job about 20 years ago. He has enjoyed ocean fishing from Alaska to Mexico, in the Bahamas, Hawaii and Japan. A few years ago, he says he blew out the motor in his boat and has switched to fishing mostly for trout and shore fishing in Bodega Bay, though he does go on a few salmon and rock cod trips with his son-in-law out of Fort Bragg.

Mr. Hillaker still has his first annual California sport fishing license (then called a Citizen Angling License) from 1951. Thank you for your years as a law-abiding angler, Mr. Hillaker, and for your commendable knowledge of sport fishing regulations! We hope you will enjoy your copy of California’s Living Marine Resources: A Status Report, and that your “Release at Depth” rockfish barotrauma cap will shade your eyes during many, many more fishing trips.


post by Mary Patyten, CDFW Research Writer