Leatherjack, Oligoplites saurus
The Leatherjack, Oligoplites saurus, whose common Spanish name is piña sietecueros, is a member of the Jack or Carangidae Family, known collectively as jureles and pámpanos in Mexico. There are only six global members of the genus Oligoplites, three of which are found in Mexican waters, two in the Pacific and this one in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Some scientists believe there are two subspecies of the Leatherjack, the Atlantic Leatherjack, Oligoplites saurus inornatus in the Atlantic and the Pacific Leatherjack, Oligoplites saurus saurus in the Pacific, while others believe they are one and the same species.
The Leatherjacks have elongated very compressed bodies with a depth that is 24 to 28% of standard length. They are uniformly silvery-green in color. They have clear anal and dorsal fins and a yellow caudal fin. Their head has a pointed snout. Their mouth has two rows of teeth and ends beyond the rear margin of the pupil. They have 13 to 18 gill rakers. Their anal and dorsal fin bases are of equal length and both end with 11 to 15 semi-detached finlets. Their caudal fin is deeply forked and their pectoral fins are short. Their lateral line is slightly arched above the pectoral fins but is generally straight. Their body is covered with small needle-shaped scales and has no scutes.
The Leatherjacks are a pelagic schooling species found inshore over sandy beaches, bays, and in estuaries at depths up to 165 feet. They reach a maximum length of 45 cm (18 inches). They are known to enter fresh water. They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters they Leatherjacks have a wide distribution being found throughout the Atlantic; in the Pacific they are found in all waters with the exception that they are absent from Magdalena Bay northward along the central and northwest coasts of the Baja.
The Leatherjack can be easily confused with the Longjaw Leatherjack, Oligoplites altus (wider body; mouth extending behind eyes) and the Shortjaw Leatherjack, Oligoplites refulgens (thinner body; mouth ends before pupils).
The Leatherjacks are considered excellent foe on light tackle and provide a strong fight with jumping. They are also caught with nets by commercial fishermen. As a food fish, they are considered somewhere between marginal and good. Their dorsal and anal spines are reported to be venomous, and should be avoided.
Leatherjack, Oligoplites saurus saurus. Fish caught in coastal waters off the New Mazatlán Marina, Sinaloa, April 2015. Length: 27 cm (11 inches). Catch and photo courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
Leatherjack, Oligoplites saurus inornatus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key Largo, Florida, December 2013. Length: 25 cm (10 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.