California Marine Sportfish Identification

Note: Please consult current fishing regulations for species presented here. To view information on safe fishing eating guidelines, please visit the link opens in new windowOEHHA website.




The Marine Sportfish Identification guide is a collaborative effort by numerous staff members within the California Department of Fish and Wildlife -- Marine Resources Division; National Marine Fisheries Service Southwest Region and the University of California Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program. Financial support was similarly provided by each agency.

The guide originally appeared as a printed compilation of current information made available through resource depositories and professionals involved with the project. Numerous CDFW biologists and personnel, statewide as well as many other associated agencies and groups, provided photographs from their collections in order to complete the book. After years of development, based on a Tri-agency agreement, the printed guide was completed in 1987.

With the advent of the World Wide Web, in the fall of 1997 CDFW undertook the task of rendering the printed publication to an online electronic guide. Then in 2013, CDFW updated the information included in the online publication and removed references to sportfishing regulations.

The primary aim or goal of this guide is to help California sport anglers identify the species of fish they catch. The initial concept for this project was to gather and clearly identify "sport fishes" found offshore of California. This task would have been similar to summarizing the Bible in four paragraphs or less. So, the decision was made to narrow the scope of the project to "commonly caught" sport fishes. With over 500 species of fish to choose from, the list was pared down to 81 fish. This, in itself, proved to be no simple task.

Initially, we decided what species should be considered game or sport fish and then made the completely arbitrary decision of which fish should be classified "common" and which should not. The group of fish chosen will not satisfy everyone, and possibly might harm the sensibilities of some readers. The decision was made to take that chance and attempt to provide a guide to California sport anglers who might ordinarily have difficulty identifying their catch. We are confident that, if anglers are able to identify certain species of fish, it will be much easier for them to observe the rules and regulations established by the various agencies concerned with the fisheries off California.

In utilizing this guide as an identification tool, click on the thumbnail image that most resembles the specimen you are interested in, or click the group of fish with a similar appearance to your catch. The text will point out color and distinguishing characteristics that you can apply to your, as yet unknown, catch. Utilize the line drawings to locate one or two characteristics that usually apply only to that particular fish. We include a section of typical habitat types (sandy bottom, surf, bay, etc.) and the species of fish commonly found in each respective type. Lists of both common and scientific names, arranged alphabetically, help direct the user to pictures and information about the fish.

It is with sincerest hope that this guide will become a useful tool for anglers in recognizing commonly caught marine sport fish in California.