California Corbina

California Corbina, Menticirrhus undulates

The California Corbina, Menticirrhus undulatus, whose common Spanish name is berrugato Californiano, is a species in the Croaker or Sciaenidae Family, known collectively as berrugatas and corvinas in Mexico. Globally, there are nine species in the genus Menticirrhus, ten of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.

The California Corbinas have slender elongated slightly compressed cylindrical-shaped bodies. They have a uniform dark metallic gray coloration that fades to whitish with iridescent reflections on their belly and creates wavy diagonal lines on their sides. Live fish often have numerous dark saddles and blotches. Their head is long and features a small mouth, a very short snout, and a single projecting barbel on their chin. Their anal fin has one weak spine and 7 to 9 rays; their caudal fin is “S-shaped” with a concave upper lobe and a convex lower lobe; their dorsal fin has 10 or 11 spines followed by another spine and 23 to 27 rays with a deep notch between the two parts; the first dorsal spines do not reach the origin of the second dorsal fin. They have 9 to 18 gill rakers and their body is covered with rough scales.

The California Corbinas travel in small schools and are found along sandy beaches and shallow bays and piers at depths up to 65 feet. They reach a maximum length of 84 cm (33 inches) and 3.9 kg (8.5 pounds). They consume primarily the Pacific Sand Crab, Emerita analoga and small amounts of other crustaceans and clams. Spawning begins in July and occurs via the release of pelagic eggs.

In Mexican waters the California Corbina has a limited distribution being found from Magdalena Bay northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja; their presence has also been reported throughout the Sea of Cortez, however, this might be due to misidentifications.

The California Corbina can be confused with the Yellowfin Croaker, Umbrina roncador (two strong anal spines) and a series of other Croakers, including the Highfin Kingfish, Menticirrhus nasus, the Panama Kingfish, Menticirrhus panamensis, and the Slender Kingfish, Menticirrhus elongates, all of which are of the Genus Menticirrhus and all have first dorsal spines that reach the second dorsal fin origin, and a series of Corvina from the Cynoscion Genus, all of which lack a chin barbel.

The California Corbinas are a favorite target of surf fishermen, primarily in Southern California between July and September, with annual catches of approximately 30,000 fish per year. They are difficult to hook and are caught with bottom rigs on sand crabs, blood worms, mussels, clams, and ghost shrimps on incoming tides. They are also an easy prey for spearfishermen and caught at a significant level as a by-catch by shrimp trawlers. They are considered either an excellent or a marginal food fish due to their ingestion of toxins, which they retain. A ban on their commercial sale has been in place since 1915.

California Corbina, Menticirrhus undulatus. Fish caught off the Pier, Oceanside, CA, May 2006. Length: 35 cm (14 inches) and 2 pounds.

California Corbina, Menticirrhus undulatus. Fish caught out from coastal waters off Ensenda, Baja California, August 2015. Photo Illustrative of the distinct light and dark horitzontal lines and dark saddles and blotches found in live Corbina. Photo courtesy of Barry Mastro, Escondido, CA.

California Corbina, Menticirrhus undulatus. Fish caught from within Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, October 2017. Length: 33 cm (13 inches).