Bulleye, Cookeolus japonicus
The Bulleye, Cookeolus japonicus, whose common Spanish name is catalufa aleta larga, is a species in the Bigeyes or Pricanthidae Family, known collectively as catalufa in Mexico. Globally, there is only one species in the genus Cookeolus, this species which is found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.
The Bulleye are named for their large eyes and are characterized by a strongly compressed, distinctively oval body with a depth that is 40 to 44% of standard length. Their head has a large upturned mouth with a projecting lower jaw. The Bulleye is a uniform crimson to scarlet/yellowish red color; this includes the iris of the eyes. All fins are similarly colored with tinges of yellow with black margins. They have a large serrated bone at the front of the eye. Their anal fin is long and bluntly pointed with spotting. Their dorsal fin is continuous with 10 spines (the last of which is the longest and used as a key to identification) and 12 to 14 rays (the tip of which is bluntly pointed). Their pelvic fins are disproportionately long and are also used as a key to identification; these are broadly attached by a membrane to the belly and positioned in advance of the pectoral fins. They have small scales.
The Bulleye resides over and within rocky bottoms at depths between 100 and 1,310 feet. They reach a maximum length of 68 cm (27 inches). They are reported to be nocturnal feeders. They are a poorly studied species and as such there is very limited information available about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Bulleye are found in all Mexican waters of the Atlantic and Pacific, with the exception that they are absent from Magdalena Bay northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja. Within the Sea of Cortez the known range for the Bulleye is poorly documented with the two fish photographed below supporting their documented range.
The Bulleye is not a difficult fish to identify due to their long pelvic fins. They are most easily confused with the Popeye Catalufa, Pristigenys serrula due to their oval body, very large dorsal fins, and rounded caudal and pelvic fins.
The Bulleye is rare, therefore not of interest to most. I have only caught one in close to 1,000 bottom fishing trips in the greater Los Cabos area. Since they are similar to the Popeye Catalufa, they are most likely very marginal table fare being retained only by subsistence fishermen and thus considered a “catch and release.”
Bulleye, Cookeolus japonicus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, April 2003. Length: 35 cm (14 inches). Identification courtesy of Milton Love, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA.
Bulleye, Cookeolus japonicus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, June 2017. Length: 35 cm (14 inches). Catch courtesy of Marty Dufek, Fullerton, CA Photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA.