Marine Management News Fish Identification Quiz
May 2011

May 2011 MMN Fish Quiz Photo; CDFW photo by Ed Roberts

This fish begins life in California waters with many thousands of its fellow larvae in the fall and early winter. The silvery young fish drift with the currents for three to four months after hatching, sometimes hiding below mats of loose, floating kelp.

By early summer, the young fish reach about 1 1/2 inches in length and begin to seek out shallow nearshore habitat such as rocky tidepools and kelp canopies. Around this time, they lose their silvery coloration and take on a mottled red, green, or bronze tone. Some anecdotal evidence suggests this fish can change color to match its surroundings.

This fish moves into deeper water as it matures, though it may return to tide pools during high tides to feed. Adult fish may be found from shallow tidepools to 300 ft. depths in rocky habitat, however most of the commercial and recreational catch is taken in less than 120 ft. of water.

Young fish eat small crustaceans, such as shrimp and small crab, while adults consume abalone, small lobster, squid, octopus, and larger crab. In turn, this fish is preyed upon by rockfishes, lingcod, sculpins, seals and sea lions.

Both males and females of this species mature by the time they reach 18 inches in length and 7 years of age. In the fall and early winter, females lay sticky egg masses, called "nests", in rocky depressions on exposed reefs, sometimes several times per season. Males then fertilize and fiercely guard the nests for two to three weeks while the eggs develop and hatch.

This fish can reach more than three feet in length. The current California recreational hook-and-line record is 23 lb. 4 oz. - a record that has stood since 1958. Biologists believe this fish may live for 20 years or more.

This species' range extends from Sitka, Alaska in the north to Point Abreojos, Baja California in the south, but it is most common between Washington state and southern California.

Records show that recreational fishermen began seriously targeting this fish in the late 1930s; it remains a popular sport fish today. Anglers in private boats take the lion's share of the recreational catch, but this nearshore species is also popular with shore-based anglers and spear fishermen. Current recreational fishing regulations for this species, which is part of the RCG Complex, seem to be keeping the recreational harvest at a sustainable level.

There was little impetus to target this species commercially until the early 1990s, when the "live-fish" fishery had firmly established itself in the fish markets. In the live-fish fishery, fish are carefully handled when caught and later sold from seawater tanks while still alive. In 1987, landings of this fish totaled only 8,800 lb; by 1998 landings had increased to nearly 373,000 lb due to live fish market demand. The price paid to fishermen also increased, from $0.36 per lb in 1987 to nearly $3 per pound in 1998 (this fish commands considerably more nowadays on the live fish market).

Currently, harvest limits on the commercial catch have reduced landings, yet this fish remains one of the most highly prized in the live-fish fishery, ranking behind only rockfish, greenlings, and flatfish in price paid per pound. In 2006, nearly 90 percent of the 62,900 lb commercial catch went to live-fish markets.

This fish is a cabezon, Scorpaenichthyes marmoratus. The current bag limit for this species is three fish within the 10-fish RCG Complex bag limit of all species of rockfish, cabezon and greenlings combined (per CCR Title 14, Section 28.28(b)). Note: This bag limit changed from two fish to three fish effective June 9, 2011.