Sailors Choice

Sailors Choice, Haemulon flavolineatum

The Sailors Choice, Haemulon parra, whose common Spanish name is boquilla, is a species in the Grunt or Haemulidae Family, known collectively as burros in Mexico.  Globally, there are twenty-one species in the genus Haemulon, and all twenty-one are found in Mexican waters, fourteen in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific.

The Sailors Choices have oblong compressed bodies with a depth that is 35 to 39% of standard length. They have a dull pearly gray coloration with a grayish belly. Each scale of the body has a distinct olive-brown spot that forms interrupted oblique and wavy streaks. They have a black spot on the lower edge of their gill cover. All their fins are dusky with the pectoral fin being lighter than the others. Their head has a sloping profile and a yellow line over the eyes. Their mouth is large and not as red as in other Grunts. Their body tapers to a notched caudal fin. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 8 rays; their dorsal fin is forked with 12 spines and 16 to 18 rays; their pectoral fins are moderately long; and their pelvic fins are located behind the base of the pectoral fins. Juveniles have a series of brown longitudinal stripes and a dark spot at the base of their caudal fin.

The Sailors Choices are found in large mixed schools, which include various snappers, within shallow coastal reef environments at depths up to 100 feet. Juveniles inhabit seagrass beds and will enter brackish waters. They reach a maximum length of 41 cm (16 inches). They are nocturnal carnivores feeding on mollusks and small fish. They are a poorly studied species and little is known about their behavioral patterns except that reproduction occurs via pelagic eggs.

In Mexican waters the Sailors Choice are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Sailors Choice is most likely confused with the Bluestriped Grunt, Haemulon sciurus (same body shape and general appearance; much smaller mouth) and the Gray Snapper, Lutjanus griseus (lacks forked tail). “Sailors Choice” is also used incorrectly by many to name the Pinfish, Lagodon rhomboides and the Pigfish, Orthopristis chrysoptera.

The Sailors Choices are small in stature but viewed as excellent table fare. They have limited commercial value due to their size but are sold fresh on a limited basis with fish caught via nets and traps. They are often encountered by divers as they are common on inshore reefs but are generally unfriendly towards them.

Sailors Choice, Haemulon parra. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key West, Florida, August 2014. Length: 28 cm (11 inches). Photo courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.

Sailors Choice, Haemulon parra. Fish caught off a coastal pier in Key Largo, Florida, December 2013. Length: 29 cm (11 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.