Short Bigeye, Pristigenys alta
The Short Bigeye, Pristigenys alta, whose common Spanish name is catalufa de lo alto, is a member of the Bigeye or Priacanthidae Family, known collectively as catalufas in Mexico. Globally, there are only four species in the genus Pristigenys, two of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.
The Short Bigeyes are characterized by strongly compressed, distinctively deep oval bodies with a depth that is 49 to 53% of standard length. Adults are uniformly dark red on their head, body, and fins. The iris of their eyes is red to silvery. The margins of their anal, caudal, and soft dorsal fins are black and the posterior third of their pelvic fins are black. Juveniles are significantly different and have transparent anal, caudal, and second dorsal fins with small black spots (pictured below); their first dorsal fin is black with mid-sized red spots. They have a large upturned mouth with a projecting lower jaw. Their anal fin has three spines and ten rays; their caudal fin is rounded; their dorsal fin is continuous with ten spines (the longest being in the middle), and ten to twelve rays; their pelvic fins are broadly fused to the belly and are of moderate length and under the pectoral fin base. Their body is covered with very large rough scales.
The Short Bigeyes reside over and within rocky bottoms at depths up to 600 feet. They reach a maximum length of 33 cm (13 inches). They are nocturnal predators with large eyes that prey mainly on smaller fish found around rocky reef areas. Their red to rose coloration makes them invisible in the deep ocean and helps to avoid predation. They normally reside in total darkness and are known to hide under rock ledges. They are a rare and poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
In Mexican waters the Short Bigeye are found in all waters of the Atlantic. Their known range extends as far north as Maine, however, the collection documented is a significant range extension.
The Short Bigeye is not difficult to identify due to its wide oval body and strongly upturned mouth, however, adults are very similar to the Popeye Catalufa, Pristigenys serrula, found only in the Pacific.
The Short Bigeyes are very marginal table fare being retained only by subsistence fishermen and thus considered a “catch and release.” They are sold commercially for food on a limited basis and marketed as “Red Snapper.” They are also used fairly extensively by the aquarium trade. They are not of concern from a conservation perspective as they have a fast reproduction time and a wide distribution.
Short Bigeye, Pristigenys alta, juvenile. Fish collected at the Martinque Beach Provincial Park, East Petpeswick, Nova Scotia, August 2015. Length: 4.5 cm (1.8 inches). Photo courtesy of Ashley Bingham, We Love Nova Scotia, Facebook.
Short Bigeye, Pristigenys alta. Fish caught from waters of the Florida Middle Grounds, March 2016. Length: 23 cm (9 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.