22 West Coast Species of Surfperches • Status from 1920s to 2003 • CAWildlife.gov

PDF: 2003 Report on Status of 18  Local Species of CA Surfperches

whereas the drop in landings from 1983 to 2001 appears to be due to declines in surfperch populations.

Overview of the Fishery


The 22 species in the surfperch family, Embiotocidae, are commonly called surfperch, seaperch and perch. They are found predominantly in temperate, northeastern Pacific waters; however, three species are found in the Sea of Japan and one species (tule perch, Hysterocarpus traski) occupies freshwater and estuarine habitats in California.

Eighteen species occur in California’s coastal waters:

  1. barred surfperch Amphistichus argenteus
  2. black perch Embiotoca jacksoni
  3. calico surfperch Amphistichus koelzi
  4. dwarf perch Micrometrus minimus
  5. kelp perch Brachyistius frenatus
  6. pile perch Rhacochilus vacca
  7. pink seaperch Zalembius rosaceus
  8. rainbow seaperch Hypsurus caryi
  9. redtail surfperch Amphistichus rhodoterus
  10. reef perch Micrometrus aurora
  11. rubberlip seaperch Rhacochilus toxotes
  12. sharpnose seaperch Phanerodon atripes
  13. shiner perch Cymatogaster aggregate
  14. silver surfperch Hyperprosopon ellipticum
  15. spotfin surfperch Hyperprosopon anale
  16. striped seaperch Embiotoca lateralis
  17. walleye surfperch Hyperprosopon argenteum
  18. white seaperch Phanerodon furcataus

  • one Estuary|Freshwater CA perch
  • 3 from Sea of Japan
  • 3 from Sea of Japan
  • 3 from Sea of Japan

The island surfperch, Cymatogaster gracilis, was once thought to be a separate species, however it is now considered synonymous with shiner perch.


There are both recreational and commercial fisheries for surfperches in California. Surfperches are easy to catch and highly sought. They are caught using hook-and-line gear and a variety of baits such as clams, tubeworms, or sand crabs, as well as artificial lures. The recreational fishery is enjoyed by anglers of all ages who fish for surfperches from boats, piers, jetties, and sandy beaches. Flyfishing for surfperches has become popular in recent years. Commercially-caught surfperches are sold as food and as fishing bait. Commercial fishermen receive from $0.25 to $5.00 per pound for surfperches.

Currently, the recreational take of surfperches is far larger than the commercial take (Figure 13.1, Figure 13.2, Table 13.4 and Table 13.5). Recreational catch estimates and commercial landings from 1980 through 1989 and from 1993 through 2001 indicate that the recreational catch averages about 739,000 lb per year, while the commercial landings average about 127,000 lb per year, which is approximately 17% of the recreational catch.

Figure 13.1. Annual commercial landings (pounds) of surfperches from 1916 to 2001. Data sources are the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Catch Bulletins (1916-1983) and the DFG commercial landing receipt database (1984-2001). ‘

  • From 1916 to 1927: Landings of surfperches, blacksmith, halfmoon, opaleye, and sargo were combined and reported as “perch” .
  • After 1927, surfperches, blacksmith, halfmoon, opaleye, and sargo were reported separately, but the reported surfperch landings may include some of the other perch-like species.

Annual commercial landings of surfperches have varied over time (Figure 13.1 and Table 13.4). Large drops in the landings occurred during two periods: from 1938 to 1941, and from 1983 to 2001. The drop in landings from 1938 to 1941 was due to decreased effort (because of the low prices offered to fishermen for surfperches) rather than a lack of fish, whereas the drop in landings from 1983 to 2001 appears to be due to declines in surfperch populations.

In addition to fluctuations in total surfperch landings, the composition and location of landings have changed as well. In the 1930s, an estimated 69% of the commercial surfperch landings came from waters north of Point Arguello (Santa Barbara County), and the catch was dominated by rubberlip seaperch, striped seaperch, walleye surfperch and white seaperch. In the 1990s, however, these species each comprised less than 1% of the identified species in commercial landings. Barred and redtail surfperches dominated the commercial landings in the 1990s, with 93% of landings coming from north of Point Arguello. The differences in fishing location and catch composition from the 1930s to the 1990s may be attributed to a variety of factors, such

In the 1930s, fishing gear used to catch surfperches differed by area. Beach seines were used in bays and estuaries in northern California, lampara nets and drift gill nets1 in Monterey Bay, and lampara nets and purse seines in southern California. In the 1990s, hook-and-line gear was the primary gear used to catch surfperch. The dominant species in the 1930s (rubberlip seaperch, striped seaperch, walleye surfperch and white seaperch) frequently occur in estuaries, while the dominant species in the 1990s (barred and redtail surfperch) are common along sandy beaches. The degradation and loss of estuarine habitats in California may have been a factor in the declines of surfperch populations, especially for those species that use estuaries.

In the 1990s, only about 67% of the commercial landing receipts indicated the species of surfperches landed. Redtail surfperch accounted for 54% of these landings, while barred surfperch accounted for 40%. Both redtail and barred surfperches are primarily caught from beaches with hook-and-line gear during the birthing season (spring to early fall for redtail surfperch, and spring to summer for barred surfperch). The commercial fishery for redtail surfperch is centered in the Crescent City/Eureka area, while the commercial fishery for barred surfperch is centered in the Morro Bay area.

Commercial restrictions include a closed season from May 1 through July 15 for all surfperches except shiner perch (which may be taken at any time). The closed season was first implemented in 1913, and was changed in 1963 to allow the take of shiner perch during the closed season. In 1953, the commercial take of surfperch was prohibited south of Point Arguello; however, the law was modified in 1959 to prohibit the commercial take of only three particular species south of Point Arguello: barred, calico, and redtail surfperches (however, redtail surfperch are not know to occur south of Point Arguello).

Recreational Surfperch Fishery

Catch estimates for the recreational fishery are available from 1980 to 1989 and from 1993 to 2001 through the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS)2. During the last two decades, the size of the total recreational catch has fluctuated, but has generally declined (Figure 13.2, Table 13.5 and Table 13.6). The average annual catch from 1993 through 2001 is 40% smaller than the average annual catch from 1981 through 1989. The average annual catch and the catch-per-unit-of- effort for most surfperch species also declined from 1981 through 1989 and from 1993 through 2001 (Table 13.1).

The MRFSS estimates indicate that in the last two decades about 90% of surfperches were caught from shore, 9% from private or rental boats, and less than 1%

1 Surfperch were frightened into drift gill nets by setting the net close to shore and splashing the water between the shore and the net, or by setting in a circle around the fish and throwing a brick or stone into the center of the circle.
2 The catch estimates for 1980 are not used here to compare the catches from different time periods because the effort data used to calculate those estimates is of poor quality.

from commercial passenger fishing vessels. Barred surfperch, black perch, redtail surfperch, shiner perch, silver surfperch, striped seaperch, and walleye surfperch are the most commonly caught species statewide. Barred surfperch comprise about one-half of the surfperch catch in southern California and one-third of the surfperch catch statewide.

During the last two decades, approximately 59% of the recreational surfperch catch has come from central and northern California, and 41% of the catch has come from southern California. The geographic distribution of the catch varies by species and by location (Table 13.1). Approximately 76% of the recreational surfperch catch comes from ocean waters and 24% from bays and estuaries

Until 2002, there was no recreational daily limit or possession limit on shiner perch, and the daily and possession limit for all other species of surfperch was 20, with not more than 10 of any one species. In an effort to reduce the recreational harvest of surfperches and stabilize population levels, the daily and possession limits were reduced in 2002 to an aggregate total of five surfperches for all species except shiner perch (limit of twenty). In addition, a minimum size limit was established for redtail surfperch of 10.5 inches, and a closed season (April 1 to July 31) was established in San Francisco Bay for all surfperch species except shiner perch.

Status of Biological Knowledge

Surfperches can be identified by their elliptical, compressed body form, single dorsal fin, large eyes, small mouth, and moderately- to deeply-forked tail fin. Some are silvery and many are marked with bars or stripes. Their most notable trait, however, is their mode of reproduction.

Surfperches bear live, highly developed young that swim at birth. Newborns are relatively large, ranging from about 1 to 2.5 in. depending upon the species. The number of young in a brood is relatively low, ranging from around a dozen to a little more than 100 (Table 13.2). For all species, brood size tends to increase with the size of the female. The age at sexual maturity varies by species and by sex. Males of a few

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