Salema, Haemulon califoreniensis

The Salema, Haemulon californiensis, whose common Spanish name is salema, is a species in the Grunt or Haemulidae Family, which are known collectively as burros in Mexico.  Globally, there are twenty-one species in the genus Haemulon, and all twenty-one are found in Mexican waters, fourteen in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific.

The Salemas have elongated thin bodies with a depth that is 25 to 29% of standard length. They have an overall silvery appearance with six to eight orange-brown stripes on the upper two-thirds of their body; these stripes increase in number with maturity. They have large eyes and an oblique mouth with a projecting lower jaw. The spine base of their dorsal fin is longer than the base of the rayous part, a key to identification. They have a lateral line that follows one of their stripes, short pectoral fins, and a forked caudal fin. There is a black spot at the base of their caudal fin.

The Salemas are an inshore schooling species found near reefs or high in kelp forests at depths up to 110 feet. They reach a maximum length of 30 cm (12 inches) and weigh less than 1 kg (2.2 pounds). They feed at night on plankton. Very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the Salema are found in all waters of the Pacific.

The Salema can be easily confused with the Longfin Salema, Xenichthys xanti (spinous part of dorsal fin shorter than base of rayous part; black spot at tail base), the Wavyline Grunt, Microlepidotus inornatus (narrow orange stripes covering body), and the Yelloweye Croaker, Odontoscion xanthops (rounded tail).

The Salemas are too small to be of interest to most but are consumed by subsistence fishermen on a limited basis.

Salema, Haemulon californiensis, juvenile. Fish caught via a cast-net from coastal waters of Bahia de Los Angeles (LA Bay), Baja California, August 2016. Length: 10 cm (3.9 inches). Catch, photograph and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA.

Salema, Haemulon californiensis. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, June 2009, Length: 20.0 cm (7.9 inches).

Salema, Haemulon californiensis. Fish caught from coastal waters off Abreojos, Baja California Sur, May 2016. Length: 18 cm (7.1 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA.

Salema, Haemulon californiensis. Underwater photo taken in coastal waters off La Jolla, CA, September 2017. Length: 18 cm (7.1 inches). Photo courtesy of Bob Hillis, Ivins, UT.