African Pompano, Alectis ciliaris
The African Pompano, Alectis ciliaris, whose common Spanish name is pámpano de hebra, is an exotic looking fish that is a member of the Jack or Carangidae Family, known collectively as jureles and pámpanos in Mexico. Globally, there are only three species in the genus Alectis, and it is the only one found in Mexican waters, and it is one of the few species found in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
The African Pompanos have deep strongly compressed bodies with a depth that is 38% to 88% of standard length; they become significantly more elongated with maturity. They are silvery in color with a light blue metallic tinge dorsally and a small dark spot on their upper gill cover. Juveniles have five chevron-shaped bars on their body and front anal and dorsal spines that are black and extremely elongated. Their upper head profile is steeply rounded. Their first dorsal fin has 7 short embedded spines plus 1 additional spine and 18 to 20 rays; the caudal fin is deeply forked; the pectoral fins are long and curved; and, their pelvic fins are moderately-sized. They have 4 to 6 gill rakers on their upper limb and 12 to 17 on their lower arch. Their lateral line has a pronounced long arch anteriorly and they have 12 to 30 scutes and no scales.
Adult African Pompanos are found over sandy bottoms and rocky structures from the surface to depths of 330 feet, however, juveniles are pelagic and found near the surface often within debris. They reach a maximum length of 1.52 meters (5 feet 0 inches) and with the current world angling record standing at 18.8 kg (41.4 pounds). They are a solitary pelagic species known to aggregate around sunken debris such as ship wrecks where they spawn in the spring. Juveniles are similar in appearance to the medusa jellyfish which contain deadly venom, which is believed to give African Pompano some visual protection against predation. They consume crustaceans, small crabs, and fish. They are a circumtropical species primarily found in the tropical Indo-Western Pacific.
In Mexican waters the African Pompano are found in all waters of the Atlantic and in the Pacific they range from Magdalena Bay southward along the southwest coast of Baja and in the southern one third of the Sea of Cortez.
The African Pompano can be easily confused with the Threadfin Jack, Caranx otrynter (pointed snout; straight angular head profile; juveniles lacking multiple long filamentous anal and dorsal fin rays).
The African Pompanos are viewed by locals as excellent table fare. Note: I have observed a major decline in the catch rates of this species over the last ten years and at present they are virtually non-existent. One rumor is that the Los Cabos populations have been depleted by the local sea lions but personally I believe this is due primarily to overfishing since they are known to congregate at certain times of the year in the same locations and thus become easy prey.
African Pompano, Alectis ciliaris, juvenile. Underwater photo taken within the El Cid Marina Mazatlán, Sinaloa, February 2015. Photo courtesy of Jason Potts. Identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.
African Pompano, Alectis ciliaris, juvenile. Fish provided by commercial bait salesmen, Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, November 2008. Length: 20 cm (7.9 inches).African Pompano, Alectis ciliaris, juvenile. Fish provided by commercial bait salesmen, Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, November 2008. Length: 30 cm (11.8 inches).
African Pompano, Alectis ciliaris. Fish catch from coastal waters off Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur. Note the soft dorsal ray deterioration. Photo courtesy Eric Brictson, Gordo Banks Pangas, La Playita, Baja California Sur.