Striped Seaperch

Striped Seaperch, Embiotoca lateralis

The Striped Seaperch, Embiotoca lateralis, whose common Spanish name is mojarra azul, is a member of the Surfperch or Embiotocidae Family, known collectively as mojarras viviparas in Mexico. There are only two global species in the genus Embiotoca, both of which are found in Mexican waters of the Pacific.

The Striped Seaperches have highly compressed deep oval bodies with a typical “perch-like” shape that is 43 to 47% of standard length. They are copper-colored with a series of 15 gold and blue metallic horizontal stripes below their lateral line. Their head has several series of blue spots and stripes. Their fins are copper in color with dark blotches on the anal fin, at the base of the caudal fin, on the soft dorsal fin, and on the pelvic fins. Their head has a larger mouth than most perches and opens in the front extending to the front edge of the eyes. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 29 to 33 rays; their caudal fin has a short and deep base and is forked; and their dorsal fin is continuous with 10 or 11 spines and 23 to 25 rays with the spines being lower than the rays. They have 22 to 27 gill rakers on their lower arch. Their lateral line is highly arched and complete and their body is covered with scales.

The Striped Seaperches are found demersal in heavily vegetated and structured shallow water bays, within kelp beds and tidal pools and sandy surf near rocks at depths up to 70 feet. Juveniles comingle with Black Perches and take refuge in kelp; adults are found more in the open. They reach a maximum of 38 cm (15 inches) in length with males and females being of equal length; they can weigh up to 1 kg (2 pounds 3 ounces). They can be found as single individuals but are more likely to be in small schools adjacent to heavy structures and are occasionally found in massive schools. They reside in waters that range between 7oC (45oF) and 16oC (61oF) and are absent from waters above 18oC (64oF) moving to deeper waters during the summer and fall. They are diurnal feeders with relatively large mouths and diverse diets being benthic grazing carnivores consuming brittle stars, gastropods, isopods, mussels, shrimp, and polychaete worms. Adults are generally not prone to predation due to their size; juveniles are preyed upon by electric rays, kelp bass, seals, and sharks. Reproduction is viviparous and occurs in November and December with an elaborate courtship of females by males. Gestation lasts from six to seven months with each female producing up to forty-four fry in April and May. Females carry the developing young until they mature. They are generally non-migratory but will make seasonal onshore-offshore movements and move to deeper waters during the winter with pregnant females moving to shallow waters in the late spring to give birth.  They have a lifespan of up to ten years.

In Mexican waters the Striped Seaperches have a limited distribution being found only from just south of Ensenada northward along the extreme northwest coast of Baja.

The Striped Seaperch is straightforward to identify due to its coloration and is not easily confused with any other species with the possible exception of the Rainbow Seaperch, Hypsurus caryi (bright blue and orange pelvic fins).

The Striped Seaperches are fairly large schooling fish that are caught in abundance from piers near rock structures during the late winter and early spring in various locations along the west coast of the United States on small hooks and light tackle utilizing mussels, shrimp, live rock crabs, and various kinds of worms. They are also caught along rocky shorelines by shore fishermen. They are rarely caught by boat fishermen. Some conservationally-minded anglers do not fish for them since females are loaded with live young in the spring and will give birth to dozens of small fry when landed. They are sold commercially on a very limited basis and considered marginal table fare. They are used on occasion as baitfish for larger prey.

Striped Seaperch, Embiotoca lateralis. Fish caught off the Coos Bay Pier, Coos Bay, Oregon, August 2009. Length: 13.0 cm (5.1 inches).