The Surfperch Family – Embiotocidae
The fish of the Surfperch or Embiotocidae Family are known in Mexico’s fishing areas as mojarras viviparas. The family has twenty-two global species that are commonly referred to as surfperches, seaperches, and perches. They are found predominantly in temperate northeastern Pacific waters from Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, northwards along the central and northwest coasts of Baja and are referred to as a northern temperate species that has an affinity for cold waters; however, three species are found in the Sea of Japan and one species resides in freshwater and estuarine habitats of California.
The Surfperches can be identified by their elliptical compressed bodies which have a single dorsal fin and a forked caudal fin and by their heads which have large eyes and a small mouth. Most are silvery and many are marked with bars or stripes. They are found in a variety of habitats, including beaches, rocky substrates, kelp beds, bays and estuaries, and in eelgrass beds. Adults range in size from 16.0 cm (6.3 inches) to 50 cm (20 inches) with females being larger than males in most species. They are found from the surface to depths of 750 feet. They reside in schools or in loose aggregates. Many species move to different areas for mating and birthing. They are bottom feeders consuming amphipods, copepods, crabs, crustaceans, mollusks, and polychaetes worms. A few act as “cleaners” of other fish removing external parasites from these fish. They are preyed upon by various basses, halibuts, rockfish, and salmon as well as by a variety of sea birds, harbor seals, and sea lions. Their mode of reproduction is atypical – instead of laying hundreds or thousands of eggs, they bear a limited number of live highly-developed young that are about 2.5 cm (1.0 inch) in length and can swim on their own at birth; many are even reproductively mature. Most Surfperches mate in the fall and winter and display complex courtships with internal fertilization; most females are capable of storing sperm for several months. Gestation periods normally last from three to six months with birth occurring in the spring and summer. Newborns are relatively large, ranging from 2.5 cm (1.0 inches) to 6.4 cm (2.5 inches); newborn sizes vary from species to species. Brood sizes are relatively low ranging from twelve to slightly more than one hundred; larger females produce larger broods. They have a lifespan between two and ten years.
The Surfperches are important recreational and commercial fish along the West Coast. They are easy to catch via hook and line with a variety of baits such as clams, sand crabs, tubeworms, and artificial lures; many are favorites of beginning anglers. They are caught from boats, piers, jetties, and sandy beaches. Catch levels are predominantly recreational and in California total about 1 million pounds per year versus about 150,000 pounds for commercial catches. They are also sold as fresh fillets and on a limited basis as live bait fish. Their value as a food fish varies by species, some being excellent, while others are too small or have marginal taste. Surfperches were an important food source for Native Americans. The majority of fish caught today is via hook and line and seasonally when they aggregate for spawning. The populations of Surfperches are in general decline which is attributed to overfishing, loss and degradation of coastal habitats which they utilize for birthing, and an increase in water temperatures. Conservation methods have been implemented and recently modified to ban commercial fishing during certain times of the year. For recreational anglers restrictions vary by species and location with anglers having a daily bag limit, length restrictions on the Redtail Surfperch, and seasonal closures of some areas to fishing. They produce few young and are relatively short-lived, which makes it difficult for their populations to recover. Surfperches have been dated to the Miocene Period, 5.3 million years ago.
There are eight members of the Surfperch Family currently presented in this website:
Barred Surfperch, Amphistichus argenteus
Black Perch, Embiotoca jacksoni
Dwarf Perch, Micrometrus minimus
Pink Seaperch, Zalembius rosaceus
Rainbow Seaperch, Hypsurus caryi
Shiner Perch, Cymatogaster aggregate
Striped Seaperch, Emboiotoca lateralis
Walleye Surfperch, Hyperprosopon argenteum