Long-barbeled Sea Catfish

Long-barbeled Sea Catfish, Bagre pinnimaculatus

The Long-barbeled Sea Catfish, Bagre pinnimaculatus, whose common Spanish name is bagre barbón, is a member of the Sea Catfish or Ariidae Family, known collectively as bagres marinos in Mexico. This fish is also known at the Red 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 Long-barbeled Sea Catfish have the standard “catfish” appearance with a robust body that is rounded anteriorly and compressed posteriorly. They are silvery overall being steel blue to nearly black dorsally, silvery-white with a pink cast on their sides and transitioning to white ventrally. Their fins are pale. Their head is wide with a smooth shield and a sub-terminal mouth with thin lips. They are equipped with narrow bands of villiform teeth followed by four narrow continuous bands across their palate and two pairs of barbels. Their upper barbel is long, broad, ribbon-like, and can reach the middle of the pelvic fins and their second barbel is short and lower on the head. Their anal fin has 27 to 32 rays; their caudal fin is deeply forked; their first dorsal fin has one venomous spine with an elongated filament and seven rays; their second dorsal fin is a small skin flap; and their pectoral fins have one venomous spine that is long and flattened and reaches the end of the anal fin. They have four to six gill rakers. Their lateral line is complete. They have no scales and their skin is smooth to the touch.

The Long-barbeled Sea Catfish are found demersal in coastal waters and estuaries over sandy and muddy bottoms at depths up to 60 feet. They reach a maximum length of 95 cm (3 feet 1 inch). 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 Long-barbeled Sea Catfish are found in all river systems that drain into the Pacific with the exception of Magdalena Bay northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.

The Long-barbeled Sea Catfish is most likely confused with the Chihuil, Bagre panamensis (smaller; no extended filament on dorsal fin).

The Long-barbeled Sea Catfish 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 of 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.

Long-barbeled Sea Catfish, Bagre pinnimaculatus. Commercial fish purchased at Walmart, Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, September 2011. Length: 38 cm (15 inches). Weight 1 pound. Price: $1.00.