Cortez Croaker, Umbrina wintersteeni
The Cortez Croaker, Umbrina wintersteeni, whose common Spanish name is berrugata de Cortés, is a member of the Croaker or Sciaenidae Family, known collectively as berrugatas or corvinas in Mexico. This fish was first reported by my good friend H.J. Walker, Jr. (with Radford) in 1992. Globally, there are eighteen species in the genus Umbrina, seven of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and six in the Pacific.
The Cortez Croakers have moderately elongated, oblong, and slightly compressed bodies with a horizontal lower body profile. They have a uniform silvery golden-brown coloration with a series of undulating oblique dark lines along their scale rows. Their fins are dark with the exception of their pectoral fins which are pale. They have high backs that are strongly curved at the front. Their head is broad, conical, and low and features a snout that is longer than the eye diameter and opens in the front under a projecting snout. Their gill covers are finely serrated. Their chin has one short barbel with a pore at its tip and two pairs of pores at its base. Their gut cavity is pale. Their anal fin has a short base with two spines and 6 rays with the second spine being stout and half the length of the first ray; their caudal fin has a straight or slightly rounded margin; their dorsal fin is deeply notched with 10 spines followed by another spine and 23 to 28 rays; their second dorsal fin has a long base; and their pectoral fins are short. They are covered with rough scales.
The Cortez Croakers are found demersal over sandy bottoms, in the surf zone, and in inshore bays at depths up to 50 feet. They reach a maximum length of 35 cm (14 inches). They are carnivores feeding on benthic crustaceans, worms, and gastropods. They are a poorly studied species and little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Cortez Croakers have a limited distribution being found from Magdalena Bay southwards along the southwest coast of the Sea of Cortez and in the lower half of the Sea of Cortez.
The Cortez Croaker can be confused with the Longspine Croaker, Umbrina analis (dark fins), the Surf Croaker, Umbrina xanti (thin second anal spine three-fourths the length of first anal fin ray), and the Yellowfin Croaker, Umbrina roncador (second anal spine three-fourths the length of first anal fin ray).
Although rare and small in stature, the Cortez Croakers are viewed by locals as excellent table fare when available. From a conservation perspective they are currently classified as Data Deficient.
Cortez Croaker, Umbrina wintersteeni. Fish caught within the coastal waters of Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, October, 2016. Length: 25 cm (10 inches).