Chihuil, Bagre panamensis
The Chihuil, Bagre panamensis, whose common Spanish name is bagre chihuil, is a member of the Sea Catfish or Ariidae Family, known collectively as bagres marinos in Mexico. It is also known by the name Chihuil Sea Catfish. Globally, there are four species in the genus Bagre, of which three are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The Chihuil have the standard “catfish” appearance with a robust body that is rounded anteriorly and compressed posteriorly. They are dark blue dorsally with a silvery sheen, silvery-white on their sides and transitioning to white ventrally. Their fins are pale to dusky. Their head is wide with a shield that has ridges and a sub-terminal mouth. They are equipped with narrow bands of palate teeth and two pairs of barbels. Their upper barbel is broad and ribbon-like, and can reach the pelvic fins and their second barbel is short and lower on the head. Their anal fin has 25 to 30 rays; their caudal fin is deeply forked; their first dorsal fin is serrated and has one venomous spine with and seven rays; their second dorsal fin is a small skin flap; and their pectoral fins are serrated and have one venomous spine that is long and flattened and reaches the anal fin origin. They have five to seven gill rakers on the first arch and 12 to 14 on second arch. Their lateral line is complete. They have no scales and their skin is smooth to the touch.
The Chihuil are found demersal in coastal waters and estuaries over sandy and muddy bottoms at depths up to 600 feet. They reach a maximum length of 57 cm (22 inches). They feed on small fish and a wide variety of benthic invertebrates including crabs, mollusks, and shrimp. They are poorly studied and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Chihuil are found in all coastal waters and in all river systems that drain into the Pacific.
The Chihuil is most likely confused with the Long-barbeled Sea Catfish, Bagre pinnimaculatus (larger; extended filament on dorsal fin).
The Chihuil are an important commercial fish and marketed fresh, frozen, dried or smoked. They are viewed as good table fare and have been a mainstay of subsistence fishermen for centuries. They are often sold under the name “sciaenids corvinata” which is more socially acceptable and can command higher prices. From a conservation perspective they are classified as Least Concern, being widespread and abundant with stable populations. Caution: Care must be taken during handling to avoid being gaffed by the venomous spines found at the front of the first dorsal and pectoral fins.
Chihuil, Bagre panamensis. Fish caught within the coastal waters of Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, October 2017. Length: 30 cm (12 inches).