White Seabass, Atractoscion nobilis
The White Seabass, Atractoscion nobilis, whose common Spanish name is corvina cabaicucho, is a member the Croaker or Sciaenidae Family, known collectively as berrugatas and corvinas in Mexico. Globally, there is only two species in the genus Atractoscion, and only one is found in Mexican waters, this species in the Pacific.
The White Seabasses have elongated fusiform compressed bodies with an oval cross-section. They have a gray-blue to copper coloration on their back, dark specks on their sides, and a silvery belly. They have a black spot at the base of their pectoral fin. Their fins are dusky yellow. Their head has a weakly oblique large mouth that lacks canines, a slightly projecting lower jaw that opens in the front, moderately-sized eyes, and gill covers with a smooth edge. Their anal fin has two short spines and 9 or 10 rays; their caudal fin has a straight to slightly concave margin; their dorsal fin has a long base and a deep notch with 10 or 11 spines and 21 or 22 rays; their pectoral fins and pelvic fins are short. They feature a raised ridge along the length of their belly. They have 13 to 18 gill rakers Their body is covered with scales.
The White Seabasses are the largest Croakers found in California waters. They are a schooling species found demersal over rocky bottoms, including the surf zone, and in kelp beds at depths up to 400 feet. They reach a maximum of 1.66 meters (5 feet 6 inches) length and 38 kg (83 pounds 12 oz) in weight, which is the current I.G.F.A. world record, with this fish being caught off San Felipe, Baja California in 1953. There is also a report of a 93 pound 4 ounce fish being caught by a spearfishermen in California waters. They are voracious ambush predators feeding on small fish and squid.
In Mexican waters the White Seabass are found from Todos Santos northward along the southwest, central and northwest coasts of Baja being rare in the southern regions of this range. The fish photographed below documents the southerly range extension for this species. They are also present in the Sea of Cortez ranging from Loreto northward.
The White Seabass can be confused with the Gulf Corvina, Cynoscion othonopterus (silver blue dorsally with dark spots on sides; mouth ending before rear of eyes), the Queenfish, Seriphus politus (wide gap between dorsal fins), the Shortfin Corvina, Cynoscion parvipinnis (one or two canine teeth on each side of upper jaw), and the Totoaba, Totoaba macdonaldi (sharp snout; projecting lower jaw; large mouth; pointed caudal fin; silver and dark fins; no ridge under belly).
The White Seabasses are a targeted species of recreational anglers. Historically they were also targeted by commercial fishermen, however, they were heavily overfished and adversely affected by pollution and habitat destruction with significant population declines and range reductions. They are normally caught with live bait but are also taken by spearfishermen. They are now heavily regulated which has stabilized current population levels. They are considered an excellent food fish.
White Seabass, Atractoscion nobilis, Juvenile. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off La Jolla, CA, September 2017. Length: 46 cm (18 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.
White Seabass, Atractoscion nobilis. Two beautiful fish caught off the Golden Reef, 22 miles east of Puertecitos, Baja California, January 2014, with Captain José Maria (Joe) Valdez Morales. Length: 1.40 meters (4 feet 7 inches); weight: 12.7 kg (28 pounds) each. Photo courtesy of Genaro Calderon, Mexicali, Baja California.
White Seabass, Atractoscion nobilis. Fish caught with Captain Jimmy Camacho and brother Jesus (pictured) of Catch and photo courtesy of Jimmy’s Sportfishing, Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Baja California Sur, (Jimmy Camacho Jimmyhcamacho@gmail.com, 613-114-0761; 612-204-1960) in coastal waters off Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Baja California Sur, July 2016. Length: 71 cm (28 inches). Weight: 7.2 kg (16 pounds).
White Seabass, Atractoscion nobilis. Fish caught by Captain Jimmy Camacho of Jimmy’s Sportfishing, Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Baja California Sur, (Jimmyhcamacho@gmail.com, 613-114-0761; 612-204-1960) in coastal waters off Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Baja California Sur, May 2017. Length: 1.04 meters (41 inches). Weight: 11 kg (24 pounds).