Rockfish belong to the family Scorpaenidae, or scorpionfishes. One of the most important fish families in California waters, the rockfish group encompasses 59 species, most of them desirable at market. State law allows 13 species to be called Pacific red snapper. These include widow, bocaccio, chilipepper, vermilion, yellowtail, black, and olive rockfish, to name several. However, none of these fish is a true red snapper, which is an Atlantic species not found on the West Coast.
   Many rockfish species range from Baja California to British Columbia, and some extend to Alaska. Adults of most species are found at depths to 1,200 feet. Rockfish are basically non-migratory fish. Recognized by the sharp spines on their dorsal fins, rockfish vary in length from 20″ to 37″ and may weigh up to 30 pounds. The species mix varies by area and fishing method: fishermen use hook and line (a category that includes both troll and longline), gill nets, and trawl nets to catch rockfish.
   Gill net and trawl catches, which produce the largest volume at a reasonable price, are often processed into fillets for restaurants and retail sale, although some of this fish is also marketed whole. Hook and line Rockfish are usually marketed in whole form, with a growing number delivered alive. Considered premium quality by Oriental markets, the hook and line catch receives top price.

Thresher Shark

   Found in temperate waters, Thresher sharks inhabit the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. In the Pacific, they range from British Columbia to southern California. These fish move with the season and water temperature; big fish tend to swim north in summer and south in winter. Reaching 25 feet in length, the Thresher is identified by its small mouth and a tail that measures almost half of its total body length, which is used to stun prey.
   California’s commercial Thresher shark season is open August 15 to December 15 inside 25 miles of the coast. Most thresher are caught within 25 miles of the mainland in an area extending from central California to the Mexican border. California fishermen with special permits employ super large-mesh (18″-22″) drift gill nets to catch thresher, fishing at night and retrieving the catch at dawn. The fishery is closed in spring and early summer to protect breeding populations. Thresher are slow-growing sharks that give birth to live young, usually two to four pups a year.
   Shark has become increasingly popular dining fare in the last decade. The primary shark harvested in California, Thresher possesses firm texture, mild flavor, and pinkish colored flesh. A popular meat for grilling, it is also excellent when broiled, baked, or steamed. Other mild-flavored, equally tasty shark species landed in California include Mako, also called Bonito shark, and nearshore shark species such as Angel, Leopard , and Soupfin shark.

Albacore Tuna

   Albacore is the only tuna species allowed to be marketed as white meat tuna. Traditionally the premium canned tuna, this highly migratory species is gaining prestige in the finest white-tablecloth restaurants and sushi bars for its mild, delicate flavor.
   A cosmopolitan fish, albacore range in subtropical and temperate oceans worldwide. In the Pacific, juvenile albacore embark on well-defined migrations between eastern and western shores. Research suggests that at least two sub-populations inhabit the North Pacific, each with different migration patterns. Spawning adults, more than six years old, make shorter journeys than their offspring.
   Off the North American coast in summer and fall, Albacore run from Baja California northward to Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands. California Albacore fishermen troll feathered jigs at the ocean surface to catch these swift-swimming fish. Several members of the fleet also travel to the South Pacific to fish Albacore during wintertime.

Bluefin Tuna

   Bluefin spawn between Japan and the Philippines in the spring and summer and migrate across the Pacific in their first or second year of life, the journey taking seven months or less. These fast-swimming fish may grow to several hundred pounds. Bluefin are rarely encountered south of Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, or north of Point Conception, California.
   Purse seiners targeting mackerel and sardines occasionally spot the herring-bone pattern of Bluefin schools in the Santa Barbara Channel in summer and fall. In the fall of 1988, seiners landed nearly 1,000 large Bluefin in a three-month period.
   Most of the fish were flown to Japan, where this ruby-red-meated fish is prized as Sashimi and brings a high price.

Yellowfin Tuna

   Yellowfin tuna are found throughout the tropical Pacific. The world’s single largest biomass of Yellowfin inhabits the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP), ranging from Chile to southern California. Tagging studies indicate that the ETP stock is a single population, with seasonal coastal migrations but no large-scale movement to the central or western Pacific. In the daytime, mature Yellowfin associate with dolphins to some degree in all the world oceans. However, the relationship with dolphins is well-developed in the eastern Pacific. ETP tuna stocks have been regulated by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission since 1966.
   Tuna was first canned in California in 1903; by 1907 the industry was well established, packing primarily Albacore. By the late 1920’s, the volume had shifted to Yellowfin and the smaller Skipjack. The development of brine refrigeration in the late 1930’s led to the fishery’s expansion far southward. In 1957, the introduction of strong, light-weight nylon netting and the power block spurred the traditional bait boat fleet to convert to purse seines, a more efficient and effective way to catch tuna.
   The U.S. tuna fleet based in Southern California grew to become the largest of its kind in the world. From 1982 through 1984, the major canneries in Southern California relocated outside the U.S., unable to compete with foreign labor rates and increasing competition from imported, lower-priced water-packed tuna. The relocation of industry, and increasingly rigid marine mammal protection policies, are primary reasons why most U.S. tuna vessels now fish in the Western Pacific (many vessels also were forced to re-flag or went bankrupt). California’s tuna fleet is now a distant-water fleet that delivers its catch to canneries in Asia, American Samoa, South America and Puerto Rico.

California Spiny Lobster

   California Spiny lobster range from Monterey Bay to Mexico, but most of the catch comes from the southern California coast and Channel Islands. Female lobster migrate to the shallows to spawn during spring and summer; in fall the population moves offshore to mate. Larval lobster drift in the ocean for 18 months and molt 12 times before they settle on the bottom. Adult lobster shed their shells once a year. Typically found in rocky habitat ranging from the inter-tidal zone to more than 240 feet deep, lobster are nocturnal, hiding in the rocks by day and foraging widely at night.
   California lobster fishermen set rectangular traps for lobster. Trap regulations require an escape port for undersized lobster, and trap doors are fastened with bare metal crimps that dissolve in seawater over time. Open season extends from the first Wednesday in October to the first Wednesday after March 15. Minimum legal size for the commercial catch is 3.25″ carapace length; these lobster reach legal size in 7 to 11 years.
   California Spiny lobster lack the large pincer claws characteristic of east coast lobster; thus the sweet, tender meat is concentrated in the tail. California Spiny lobster’s fine texture and sweet flavor are prized in Asian markets.


   California Barracuda are nearshore, epipelagic, schooling fish found from Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, to Kodiak Island, Alaska. Thin and toothy, an axe handle with jaws, Pacific Barracuda are smaller than their Atlantic relatives, and undeserving of the fierce image conjured by their name. However, the California variety is a fighting fish on a sportsman’s line. Barracuda became a popular game fish after World War II. The catch has historically centered in southern California and northern Baja.
   Barracuda figured prominently in the development of California’s purse seine fishery in the early 1900’s. Landings peaked in the early 1940’s, then declined, while a series of state regulations supplanted the purse seine in favor of gill nets and hook and line.
   A popular market fish during the fishery’s heyday, Barracuda fell out of fashion — out of sight, out of mind — as the public taste turned to shark. Barracuda have returned to abundance, awaiting rediscovery as Californians increasingly value the health benefits of Omega-3-rich seafood.

California Halibut

   These bottom-dwelling flatfish are yearlong residents in sand and mud-bottomed coastal waters, found from the surf zone to about 300 feet deep, from Washington State to Baja California. The area of greatest abundance is southern California and northern Baja. California Halibut, with a maximum length of 60 inches and weight to 72 pounds, are smaller than Pacific halibut. Ambush predators with both eyes usually located on the left side of the head, California halibut are non-schooling, unpredictable, elusive fish — the “bread and butter” fish of California’s nearshore groundfish fishery.
   Twenty-two inches is the minimum legal length for commercial sale of California Halibut. In the last decade, California fishermen have provided an average 1.1 million pounds of this mild-flavored, white-meat fish to consumers. In normal ocean cycles, more than 70% of the catch originates in central and southern California waters.
   Because of their economy of operation and consistent ability to catch fish, gill nets historically provided most of California’s halibut catch. California halibut are also caught with hook and line and large-mesh trawl in designated areas.


   Swordfish are found in tropical and temperate oceans worldwide. In the Pacific, Swordfish range from Asia to the Americas and from northern waters off Alaska to the southern reaches of South America. Preferring warmer climes, Swordfish characteristically surface at night and move to the depths in daylight. These broadbills congregate in areas where food is abundant, along frontal zones where ocean currents meet to create turbulence and sharp temperature breaks. There are five such zones in the Pacific, and this is where most fishing occurs. Swordfish are fished by many Pacific Rim countries: the top Swordfish harvesting nations in the Pacific are Japan, Chile, and the Philippines, in order. California ranks fourth, representing about 10% of Pacific Swordfish landings.
   California Swordfish fishermen are the most strictly regulated of all Pacific Rim fleets. Most California Swordfish are caught with super-wide-mesh drift gill nets (18″-22″ mesh) in a season open from August through January. The regulated use of these nets insures a consistent catch in all water conditions.
   Often enduring dangerous ocean conditions, California fishermen may range from north of San Francisco to the Mexican border and up to 200 miles offshore in search of Swordfish. The men and women of California’s Swordfish fleet work hard to deliver a top-quality product to market. One of the most popular seafoods, Swordfish steak is moderate flavored and can be easily broiled, baked, or grilled.

Article courtesy of the California Seafood Council

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