Shortbill Spearfish

Shortbill Spearfish, Tetrapturus angustirostris

The Shortbill Spearfish, Tetrapturus angustirostris, whose common Spanish name is marlin trompa corta, is the rarest and least studied species in the Billfish or Istiophoridae Family, known collectively as picudos in Mexico. Globally, there are only four species in the genus Tetrapturus, two of which are found in Mexican waters, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

The Shortbill Spearfish have narrow very elongated very compressed bodies. They are dark blue dorsally and silver ventrally with touches of brown on their sides. Their first dorsal fin is dark blue, while their other fins are brown or dark brown. Their anal fin base has tinges of silvery white. They have a very short spear extending from their upper jaw, which is less than 15% of their total length. They have small eyes and a mid-sized mouth equipped with small teeth. They have two anal fins, the first with 12 to 15 rays and the second with 6 to 8 rays. They have two dorsal fins, the first with 45 to 50 rays and forming a triangular peak at the front with the rest of the fin being relatively high and greater than the body depth; the second with six or seven rays. Their caudal fin is deeply forked with very narrow lobes. Their pectoral fins are short and narrow and fold against the body. Their pelvic fins are slender and about twice the length of the pectoral fins. Their lateral line is dark and arches over the pectoral fins. Their body is covered with small triangular scales.

The Shortbill Spearfish are a highly migratory epipelagic and oceanic species usually found in surface tropical and temperate waters above the thermocline far offshore and are seldom seen in coastal waters. They are found at depths up to 6,000 feet via satellite tagging but normally do not go much below 1,000 feet. They are only found in waters with temperatures between 20oC and (68oF) and 28oC (82oF). They can reach 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) in length and 52 kg (132 pounds) in weight. The World Record caught in Australian waters in 2008 is 50 kg (110 pounds). They consume fish, cephalopods, and crustacean. Males and females are indistinguishable by their external features, however, females are slightly larger than males. Reproduction is via pelagic eggs. They are poorly studied and very little is known about their behavioral patterns and life history.

The Shortbill Spearfish have a wide global distribution but are not abundant. In Mexican waters that are found in all waters of the Pacific with the exception that they are absent form the Sea of Cortez.

The Shortbill Spearfish is not easily confused with other species due to its short sword and wide dorsal fin.

The Shortbill Spearfish are caught as a by-catch of commercial fishermen utilizing purse seines and longlines targeting swordfish and tuna. Annual catch rates are around 3,000 tons, although global catch levels are poorly maintained and subject to interpretation. The quality of the flesh is considered “marginal”. They are marketed frozen and utilized primarily in fish cakes and sausages and for sashimi on a limited basis, with a large market in Japan.

From a conservation perspective, their global population is not well documented, thus they are currently considered Data Deficient. Like other billfish, their population is considered to be in decline. Globally, this fish is poorly managed with virtually no conservation measures in place.

 A word of caution: these fish are ginormous wild animals and their spears are very dangerous!

Shortbill Spearfish, Tetrapturus angustirostris. Fish caught from coastal waters off Ensenada, Baja California, August 2007. Length: 2.03 meters (6 feet 8 inches). Weight: 51 kg (112 pounds). Tyler did not submit the fish for an IGFA record, noting that the current IGFA all-tackle record is 101 pounds.