Black Perch, Embiotoca jacksoni
The Black Perch, Embiotoca jacksoni, whose common Spanish name is mojarra rayas negras, is a member of the Surfperch or Embiotocidae Family, known collectively as mojarras viviparas in Mexico. There are only two global members in the genus Embiotoca, both found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.
The Black Perch have highly compressed deep oval bodies with a depth that is 45 to 49% of standard length. Despite their common name, they are uniformly dark reddish-brown to tan in color with large darker colored vertical bars across their flanks. Their mouth has thick lips that are yellowish and some fish have a mustache above their upper lip. Their caudal and pelvic fins are orange or red with gold and dark blue stripes. They have the ability to change colors to camouflage as a defense mechanism. A key to identification is the presence of a patch of enlarged scales between their pectoral and pelvic fins. Their anal fin has three spines; their caudal fin is forked; and their dorsal fin is continuous with 9 to 11 spines and 19 to 28 soft rays. Their body is covered with small scales.
The Black Perch are common inhabitants of rocky areas near kelp beds, over sandy bottoms in coastal bays, and around piers and piling. They are found in the surf zone and to depths up to 240 feet but rarely below 80 feet. They have a tendency to relocate to deeper waters during warm water episodes. They reach a maximum length of 39 cm (15 inches) and weight of 0.7 kg (1.5 pounds). They are fast-growing and short-lived fish. They are carnivores collecting in small groups and feeding diurnally on small invertebrates (including amphipods), bryozoans, mollusks, and worms. Smaller fish act as cleaner fish consuming ectoparasites from each other and from other fish species. They are not territorial with the exception of a few large males that will defend the caves used for breeding and shelter. Reproduction is viviparous and takes place in deeper waters from December to May with courting occurring in aggregations of up to 20 fish. Gestation lasts five to six months with each female producting 5 to 17 fry annually that are 6.4 cm (2.5 inches) in length; larger females produce larger quantities of fry. Both males and females are of equal size and have lifespans of up to nine years.
In Mexican waters the Black Perch have a limited distribution being found only from Magdalena Bay northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.
The Black Perch is straightforward to identify due to its body profile and coloration and is therefore not easily confused with any other species.
The Black Perch, although small in stature, are considered excellent food and game fish. They are caught via hook and line and gill nets and by spearfishermen. In the last 20 years, their populations have significantly declined which is attributed to fishing pressure, predation, and habitat and food supply losses.
Black Perch, Embiotoca jacksoni. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater San Diego area, San Diego, CA, October 2014. Length: 27 cm (11 inches).
Black Perch, Embiotoca jacksoni. Fish caught from coastal waters off Santa Cruz, California, July 2016. Length: 25 cm (10 inches). Catch and photo courtesy of Andrew Hansen, Santa Cruz, California