Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fish Bulletin No. 28. Handbook of Common Commercial and Game Fishes of California


The purpose of this bulletin is primarily to establish official common names of the California fishes which are handled commercially, or which are of particular interest to fishermen or dealers. The authority for this work is derived from a State law enacted in 1919, which provides that "the Fish and Game Commission shall have the power to decide what is the common usage name of any variety." Incidentally, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries has attempted to provide a handbook for the convenience of marketmen, sportsmen and others who are interested in our natural resources. The restricted number and character of the species considered, the lack of complete keys, and the brevity of the description will make the book of small if any value to the pure scientist, for whom the work is not intended.

The need for this work has arisen out of a confusion of names, which has interfered with obtaining the utmost value possible from the catch records. There are, for example, two species of salmon in California of significant commercial importance. They are both listed in the records as "salmon," although it would be advantageous to salmon investigations to have each species recorded separately. One species has been called the king salmon, Sacramento River salmon, Chinook salmon, quinnat salmon, Columbia River salmon, or spring salmon; the other species when recognized was known as silver salmon or silversides. Again, the young of the white sea bass was called sea trout in southern California; in the northern part of the State the sea trout is an entirely different species, not even closely related to the southern form. A very common category listed on the original records was the bluefish, a mythical species which might be Pacific cultus, cabezone, halfmoon, rockfish, opal-eye, sea trout, or corbina, depending on where and by whom the fish was caught. Any number of other examples might be given of this chaotic state of the common names of our fish, but those cited should suffice; the desirability of establishing a definite official name for each species is patent.

The criterion "common usage name" has not been easy to apply. In California as elsewhere throughout the new world, common nomenclature did not grow up with the language as in Europe. The people who settled here naturally named things because of similarities—either real or apparent, superficial or significant—to familiar species in their homelands. Consequently these adopted names are not always expressions of true relationships. The horse mackerel, for example, is not a mackerel; the jack smelt bears little relationship to the true smelts; the white sea-bass is not a bass but a croaker. Where common usage requires, these names have been designated as official. However, where there have been many names for one kind of fish or many species of fish for one name, names least likely to cause confusion with other species have been adopted. Thus, it has been thought wise to call all of the species of the genus Sebastodes "rockfish," with certain individual descriptive adjectives; to abolish the term bluefish. Sometimes it has been necessary to assign adjectives to the specific names in order to

distinguish between closely related species, as for example, Mexican corbina, California corbina, king salmon, silver salmon. In some instances it has been expedient arbitrarily to designate entirely new names.

The scope of the book includes primarily the fish of importance and interest to commercial fishermen and dealers, although several species of slight significance are described. Purely game fishes like the trout, calico bass, large-mouthed black bass, are included because of their interest commercially from the legal point of view. The reader might be disappointed not to find some forms which appear occasionally in the markets in negligible quantities, such as the señorita or kelp fish, the dolphin, the cusk eel, or many of the kinds of shark or skate. These we have not felt of sufficient importance to be included in the scope of this bulletin. Where there are many closely related species listed under the same name, as for example, the rockfish, we present only those most frequently seen in the markets. It is our intention to revise this work in later years when there comes a shift in commercial importance of any of the species not described in the present compilation.

The exploitation of certain marine or aquatic animals other than fish also comes within the governance of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries of the Division of Fish and Game. These are the crustaceans (crabs, shrimps, lobsters, crayfish), the mollusks (abalones, squids, octopi, clams, cockles, scallops, oysters), and certain mammals (whales and seals). The crustaceans of commercial importance and three of the mollusks (squids, octopi, and abalone) are treated in this paper. The other mollusks, and the whales and seals have been the subject of other publications issued by the Bureau.

The article on scientific names and the glossary of fishing gear have been included in the hope of promoting a better understanding of these subjects.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View