Pacific Golden-eyed Tilefish, Caulolatus affinis
The Pacific Golden-eyed Tilefish, Caulolatus affinis, whose common Spanish name is conejo and a fish with many local names including conejo, molahino and pierna, is a member of the Tilefish or Malacanthidae Family, known collectively as blanquillos in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Bighead Tilefish. Globally, there are ten species in the genus Cauloatilus, seven of which are found in Mexican waters, five in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
The Pacific Golden-eyed Tilefish have robust rectangular shaped body with a uniform body depth throughout their length with a depth that is 25 to 30% of standard length. They are olive green to a bluish gray in overall color with silvery sides. The key to identification, and for which they are named, is a broad yellow stripe in front of the eye. They have a dark spot above the pectoral fin axis. The juveniles are lighter in color, the yellow stripe extends through the eye and to the gill cover and the dark spot above the pectoral fin axis is more pronounced in juveniles. The yellow stripe quickly fades to a dull blue upon death. Their heads are relatively deep with a relatively steep profile. They have serrated gill covers with one short blunt spine.
The Pacific Golden-eyed Tilefish are found in relatively deep water demersally in both marine and brackish environments over rocky and sandy substrate at depths between 100 and 650 feet. They are a slow-growing medium lived species. They are reported to reach 50 cm (20 inches) in length and 700 grams (1.5 pounds) in weight, however I have caught a fish that was 60 cm (23.6 inches) in length which is indicative of a weight of 5.0 kg (11 pounds) that extends the size for this species. The anal fin has one or two spines and 21 to 24 rays; the caudal fin is straight; the dorsal fin has 7 to 10 spines and 22 to 25 rays. Both the anal and dorsal fins have very long bases. The body is covered with rough scales. The males and the females are similar in appearance, however the males are much larger and heavier than the females and dominant the population in older fishes. They consume benthic worms, crustaceans, gastropods and bivalves, octopus, small fishes and squid. Reproduction involves external fertilization with pelagic eggs and larvae. They have lifespans of up to twenty-one years.
In Mexican waters the Golden-eyed Tilefish are found in all waters of the Pacific.
The Pacific Golden-eyed Tilefish can be confused with the Ocean Whitefish, Caulolatilus princeps (blue-grey with a more concave yellow caudal fin and the pectoral fins have strong yellow and blue components).
The Pacific Golden-eyed Tilefish is an commercially important species and the most substantial subsistence fish of Baja California Sur. They are also a focus fish of recreational anglers. They are caught primarily by hook and line with a limited number caught by deepwater shrimp trawls. From a conservation perspective the Golden-eyed Tilefish is considered to be of Least Concern due to its widespread distribution in the Eastern Pacific and is very common with a stable population. They are without conservation measures with the exception that they do resides in some to the marine protected areas of the Eastern Tropical Pacific. The Golden-eyed Tilefish is the most frequently caught bottom fish from waters that are deeper than 200 feet in the greater Los Cabos area. They are considered to be an excellent food fish and sold commercially in all local fish markets fresh and frozen. At times they can become a pest and when the fish box is nearing capacity fishermen will move to different locations seeking other fishes such as Pacific Creolefish, Pacific Porgy, Ocean Tilefish and Pacific Red Snapper.
Pacific Golden-eyed Tilefish, Caulolatilus affinis, Juvenile. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, January 2014. Length: 16.5 cm (6.5 inches).
Pacific Golden-eyed Tilefish, Caulolatilus affinis. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, January 2014. Length: 35 cm (14 inches).