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Northern Anchovies, Engraulis mordax

Anchovies, Sardines and MackerelAnchovies are the most abundant schooling fish on the west coast. And anchovies, along with squid, can also be said to foster the entire ocean food web of things larger than them.

Only a few decades ago, sardines were the most abundant schooling fish in Monterey Bay until they were over fished, reducing the healthy five-year reproducing age classes to just two. Subsequent bad environmental local conditions for spawning two years in a row caused the crash of the entire population. Anchovy populations then swelled enjoying the same nutrient-rich waters that supported the sardines. Anchovies can be distinguished from sardines and herring--all about the same size--by their "under-bite"--that is, their lower jaw is shorter than their upper. They are blue-green on top and can grow up to nine inches but generally are three to five, with a four-five year life span.

Dense schools of anchovies will appear gleaming in the waters around the Wharf throughout summer drawn, in turn, by clouds of teeming plankton. The fish are so oily that a slick will form on the surface when they school near the Wharf. Often the anchovies seem to favor the protection of the Wharf and can be caught easily with small-hook jigs and throw nets.

Over the last few years, sardines have been appearing in much greater numbers, often in tandem, with the anchovies.

Albacore, Thunnus alalunga, of the family of mackerels and tunas, Scombridae.

Albacore TunaOne of the worldwide temperate ocean tunas, albacore typically are highly migratory and tend to race across the open oceans. Tagged albacore off California have been caught off Hawaii 5,000 miles away some 294 days later, which is an average straight-line distance of 17 miles a day.

They can be distinguished from other tunas by their very long pectoral fins, which extend past the anal fin. They commonly come close enough to the California shore in fall when the waters warm up. Even so, they are usually found 20 or so miles from shore. However, several years ago during the El Niño event, they were being caught off the Cement Boat in Aptos and even our Wharf. They have no minimum fishing length limit, and are commonly 10-20 pounds in weight. 


A number of fish on the west coast are commonly called cod that are not true cod. Rockcod, lingcod, and black cod, for example, are not cods at all. "True cods" have three dorsal fins, are elongate and generally pelagic. In our waters, tomcod is the only true cod found. Further north toward Alaska, Pacific cod abound.

Rockfish, or rockcod, Genus Sebastes, from the family Scorpaenidae (scorpionfishes)

Canary Rock FishWith our extensive reef system throughout the West Cliff Drive offshore area of Santa Cruz, we have an amazing variety of rockfish. This whole Sebastes genus have two dorsal fins, with 12 spines and eight fin rays, and a ventral tail spine. The spines are venomous. If you get stuck with one, you will know it for quite some time, since the venom is very painful (not fatal). The quickest remedy is hot water.

Rockfish are sometimes confused with the sea basses, such as kelp bass and barred sandbass. The basses, however, have eight dorsal spines as opposed to the 12 of the rockfishes.

Rockfish species are of all colors. A listing would include, blue, black, calico, vermillion, canary, greenspotted, copper, black and yellow (or China), starry, widow, yellowtail, olive, cowcod, chilli pepper, boccacio, and sculpin rockfishes.

They are a very hardy fish, able to survive four hours after being caught if put in even a little saltwater, and even an hour or so fully out of water. All the Sebastes are very long-lived for fish. They can live 20-30 years, and are therefore, vulnerable to overfishing.

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© 1997 Michael Harris, Under the Wharf Magazine & Photography, 831-469-0443
Last updated: 8/3/2009 5:00:33 PM