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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fish Bulletin No. 68. Common Marine Fishes of California


This bulletin is written with two objectives in mind. First, it is designed to provide authorized names for the more common marine fishes of California, in the hope that these names will be used in the fishing industry and by sportsmen. Second, it is designed to provide a ready reference from which the fisherman or the buyer can identify those species seen most often in the commercial and the sport catch. It is not presented as a treatise on our marine fishes, for it describes only a fraction of the species known from California. It is meant as a guide for any person interested in fish regardless of his technical background, so scientific terminology is avoided wherever possible.

There have been two other bulletins of this sort published by the California Division of Fish and Game. The first, Number 28, was very broad in scope. It included both fresh-water and marine fishes, sharks, rays, and some invertebrates. The second,Number 45, treated sharks and rays in considerably more detail. The present publication is concerned only with the "true" bony fishes caught in the ocean off California, including the anadromous species—those which enter fresh water to spawn.

By limiting this paper to marine fishes, we have been able to include a number of species which were not discussed in Bulletin 28. The criterion for selection was whether or not the fish in question was one appearing with reasonable frequency in either the sport or the commercial catch. Several fish of no importance either economically or as game fish come under this standard. They are, however, caught sufficiently often, usually by accident rather than design, to be the objects of interest and recurring questions as to their identity. It was not always easy to decide whether a given fish should be included, and no doubt some readers will wonder why one fish appears while another does not. The list as finally selected reflects the views of many interested people and is as representative as space would allow.

The format follows that of Bulletins 28 and 45, and descriptions have been taken almost bodily from the former in several cases. In a number of groups of fishes, studies made in the intervening years have brought out easier means of identification and the descriptive paragraphs have been changed accordingly. Color is often a difficult character to describe, for a given fish may change its color in life, undergo further changes on death, and then have these shades completely altered after freezing or preserving. In addition, many species are iridescent and two people looking at the same fish will see different tones. The color patterns given herein are those believed typical of the species shortly after capture. Descriptions of both physical appearance and color refer to adult specimens and cannot be relied upon for young fish.

Notes on the fishing season and fishing gear are drawn from records of the years 1941–1946 unless otherwise stated. The relative importance of the different species is subject to a great deal of variation. They have been ranked on the basis of 1946 catch records. Distribution records are given in general rather than specific terms in most instances. "Northern California" includes the area from the Oregon border south to Marin County; "Central California," that from Marin County south to Pt. Conception; and "Southern California," that from Pt. Conception to the Mexican border.

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