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Abundance and importance of fish species from the artisanal fishery on the Pacific coast of northern Baja California.

Abstract.--The artisanal fishery from Baja California, Mexico is conducted from small boats in nearshore waters, and from fishing camps located along the coast. This activity is important due to the volume and the number of fish species captured. In this study we describe the seasonal abundance of catches from 51 boats in 1994, and the importance of the species landed at eight sites along the northwestern coast of Baja California, from Santo Tomas to south to Punta Canoas. Sixteen fish species were identified from 2,490 individuals and with a biomass of 2,682.7 kg. The highest catches were recorded in Summer and Fall, and the lowest in Winter. The seasonal mean catch per boat was similar and lowest during Spring (42.1 fish/boat [+ or -] SE 7.9) and highest in Summer (52.1 fish/boat [+ or -] 6.7), followed closely (50.3 and 50.1 fish/boat) by Fall and Winter, respectively. The most important fish species according to the Index of Community Importance were the rockfishes (Sebastes sp.), whitefish (Caulolatilus princeps), sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher), and kelp bass (Paralabrax clathratus). All these can be considered the target species, and also important to sportfishing. San Quintin contributed 35% of the boat trips and 37.5% of the total catch.

The western coast of Baja California is a highly complex habitat with sandy bottoms, rocky reefs, beds of giant kelp or seagrasses, cold upwelling areas, inlet bodies of warm-water, and highly productive zones. These environments are important as nurseries, and spawning grounds and provide refuge for both invertebrates and small fish that act as prey for larger fish.

A high larval fish production from different species occurs along the coastal waters of Baja California (Moser et al 1993). This area is also important to transboundary fish species (Moser and Watson 1990), and more northern waters benefit from the egg and larval dispersion of both pelagic or demersal fishes from this area. The greatest importance of this coastal zone is that shelters a great diversity of fish species of ecological and economical interest.

The artisanal fishery of Baja California is mainly conducted with small boats (pangas; <8m long, 75 HP), and usually with hook-and-line. This fishery involves a variety of ground and pelagic species from habitats of no more than 15 fathoms depth. However, this coastal activity, in a nation-wide context, represents from 30% to 50% of the total catch with an important economic value (Hammann and Rosales-Casian 1990; SEMARNAP 1997; SEMARNAT 2000).

In Baja California, the coastal demersal fishes named the "scale" group are caught from different fishing camps located along both the Gulf of California and the Pacific coast. Their fishing products are mainly sold in Ensenada, Baja California, at the "Mercado de Mariscos del puerto de Ensenada". This market is an important source of biological information, and an annual study of the fish species taken has recently been published (Hernandez-Hernandez 2000).

Reports on coastal fishing of Baja California are non-existant, and very few reports on artisanal fishing have been realized, because most research has been focused on the fisheries for schooling species caught by purse seiners (tunas, sardines, anchovies) or on expensive invertebrates like abalone or lobster. A number of studies have been completed on the fish community and the biology of economic fish species in the vicinity of Bahia de Todos Santos, Ensenada, Baja California (Carrillo-Cortes 1994; Hammann and Ramirez-Gonzalez 1990; Mendoza-Carranza and Rosales-Casian 2000; Hammann and Rosales-Casian 1990; Mondragon-Rojas 1994; Pintos-Teran 1994; Rosales-Casian and Hammann 1993; Rosales-Casian 1995; Salome-Sanchez 1993), and Bahia de San Quintin (Rosales-Casian 1996, 1997a,b).

The current study analyzes the artisanal coastal fishery data from Santo Tomas south to Punta Canoas, in Northern Baja California, during 1994. The objectives of this study are to determine 1) which fish species are taken, 2) the seasonal abundance of the catch, and 3) to analyze the importance of the fish species caught by pangas.


This study was conducted in 1994 and early 1995. Eight sites were selected from the Pacific coast of northern Baja California: Santo Tomas, Ejido Erendira, Cabo Colonett, Camalu, Bahia de San Quintin, Bahia de El Rosario, Puerto San Carlos and Punta Canoas (Fig. 1). All these sites were selected because of their importance as fishing camps.


This study began in April 1994 and continued during May, August, September, October, November, December, and January 1995. For the analysis, samples were grouped by seasons: spring (April-May), summer (August-September), fall (October-November), and winter (December and January). Each monthly sample included three to four sites, with five to seven sites per season. Sampling a site each month was difficult due to weather, movement of boats to different fishing places, outboard motor failures, lack of fishing trips due to other causes. For this reason, we analyzed the information as a whole. Because Bahia de San Quintin was visited during each trip and obtained the best data set over time, we present a specific analysis for this important locale.

The catch from the individual boats was counted, identified, measured and weighed upon arrival. The identification of the fish species followed Miller and Lea (1972). The rockfishes except for scorpionfish were unspecified and listed as Sebastes sp. The standard length (mm-SL) was obtained by means of a one-meter measurement board with divisions to millimeter. The total weigh was measured with an Accu-weigh spring scale of 22 kg capacity to the nearest 100 g. The type of fishing gear, length of the boats and the outboard motor power were also recorded.

Temperature ([degrees]C) was obtained from a 1994 study at the open coast of Bahia de San Quintin (Rosales-Casian 1997b), and was measured by four bottom replicates (10m-depth) during all monthly trips with a reversible thermometer. A Pearson correlation between bottom temperatures and fish abundance (log10[X + 1] transformed) from all sites and from San Quintin was calculated to measure their association (Zar 1984).

Abundance was converted to catch per unit effort (CPUE) by dividing the number of fishes by the number of boat trips. The boat catches were first examined for assumption of normality (K-S, d = 0.113, p>0.20) and then were log 10(X + 1) transformed to determine seasonal differences in mean catches by an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA).

To determine the contribution of each species to the catch and which could be considered target species, the Index of Community Importance (ICI) was used (Stephens and Zerba 1981; Love et al. 1986; Rosales-Casian 1997a,b). The ICI was calculated by the sum of the percent of abundance and frequency-of-occurrence rankings. Species were then reranked based on these ICI values.

The standard lengths (mm) were grouped by 20 mm classes. Length-class distributions were presented for all individuals and seasonally for the three more important target fish species. Sizes were transformed to logarithms to determine seasonal differences by ANOVA, as above.


The means of seasonal bottom temperatures at 10m-depth from the coast of San Quintin were 12.6, 17.2, 15.9, and 13.1[degrees]C for spring, summer, fall, and winter, respectively. The catch presented here reflects the fishes and sizes of commercial species only. Small fish of any species are usually released alive, and are not recorded in the catch.

A total of 51 commercial fish catches were sampled from an equal number of pangas during the eight months of trips that comprised the four seasons (Table I). The total number of fishes recorded was 2,490 (Table I) with the highest catches during Summer (August, n = 487) and Fall (November, n = 481), and lowest catch in Winter (January 1995, n = 200). The total biomass of the catch during the complete study was 2,682.7 kg.

A total of 16 fish species and the group of rockfishes were identified in the catch. The most abundant fish were the rockfishes (Sebastes sp.) during Spring and Fall, followed by the sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) in Summer, and the whitefish (Caulolatilus princeps) in fall. These species contributed 30%, 25.9% and 17.6%, to the total catch, respectively (Table 2). The kelp bass, Paralabrax clathratus, were an important component during Summer (n = 102), and all kelp bass contributed 10.6% to the total catch.

The most important target species were the rockfishes, according to their rankings by the relative abundance and the frequency of occurrence (Index of Community Importance, ICI). By the ICI, the whitefish (C. princeps) occuped the second place followed by S. pulcher and P. clathratus (Table 3). The rockfishes occurred with 23.1% in the boat catches, the whitefish with 16.2%, and the sheephead and kelp bass with 13.1%, both (Table 3).

The seasonal mean catch per boat was lowest during spring (42.1 fish/boat [+ or -] SE 7.9) and highest in summer (52.1 fish/boat [+ or -] 6.7), followed by close values (50.3 and 50.1 fish/boat) in fall and winter, (Fig. 2). The overall mean was 48.8 fish/boat [+ or -] 2.9), and the maximum catch by a boat was 95 fish in spring, with a minimum of five fish in fall. The mean catch per boat did no differ significantly (ANOVA, p = 0.465) among seasons.


No significant correlation was found between bottom temperature (10m-depth) from the coast of San Quintin and the seasonal catch study area as a whole (r = 0.556, p = 0.254).

The lowest mean catch in the coast of San Quintin was in spring with 41.8 fish/boat ([+ or -] SE 18.8) and the highest (63.2 [+ or -] SE 9.5) in fall (Fig. 4.). At this site, the overall mean was 51.8 fish/boat [+ or -] SE 5.2. The high variability of the standard error during spring was due to a lowest catch of eleven fishes in one boat and a high of 95 fishes in another boat. These were the minimum and maximum catch numbers in all seasons. No significant correlation was found between bottom temperature and the seasonal catch in San Quintin (r = 0.241, p = 0.509).


Thirteen species plus the rockfish group were taken off of San Quintin. The most important target species by ICI, again, were Sebastes sp. followed by kelp bass, P. clathratus and whitefish, C. princeps (Table 4). Sebastes sp. occurred in 94.4% of the panga catches, while kelp bass and whitefish occurred in 72.2% and 66.7% of catches, respectively (Table 4).

Because rockfishes are a mix of species that were not identified, we present here the size distributions of the most important species (whitefish, California sheephead and kelp bass), only.

The standard length of the whitefish (C. princeps) ranged from 195 to 555 mm with an overall mean of 354.9 mm (SD [+ or -] 61.2). The length distribution for the complete study shows that 17.4% of the individuals fell into the 340 mm class (Fig. 4). Seasonally, the 340 mm size class was important during all four periods. During summer, a new cohort was incorporated representing the smallest individuals with a mode at 260 mm (Fig. 5). The standard length means showed significative differences with respect to seasons (ANOVA, F = 22.100, p = 0.000).


California sheephead (S. pulcher) standard lengths ranged from 194 to 628 mm, with a mean of 312.2 mm (SD [+ or -] 56.8). For all individuals, modal size was at the 300 mm class, with a frequency of 17.3% (Fig. 6). By seasons, S. pulcher shows the main mode at the 320 mm class during spring, at 300 mm during summer and fall, and at 280 mm in winter (Fig. 7). The standard length means showed significant differences with the seasons (ANOVA, F = 3.092, p = 0.027).


With respect to the kelp bass (P. clathratus), we obtained some additional data for the spring months from samples in the same year at the Macrocystis sp. beds on the coast of San Quintin (Rosales-Casian 1995, 1997b). This increased the number for the size distribution in that period. For the complete data set, the mode was observed at the 370 mm size class which represented 18.4% of the individuals (Fig. 8). The smallest individuals represented at left of the mode contributed 48% of the individuals. The seasonal distribution of lengths showed that 370 mm size class was important in spring and summer, while the 350 mm and 300 size classes predominated during fall and winter (Fig. 9). The analysis of variance detected significant differences in the standard length means with respect to seasons (ANOVA, F = 11.91, p = 0.000).



This type of fishery was difficult to sample because sheer distance from Punta Santo Tomas to Punta Canoas, and rough road conditions. This and the absence or small number of fishing trips at each visit increased the difficulty. Despite these problems, we believe that the information presented here is valuable and accurately reflects the artisanal fishery on the Pacific coast of northern Baja California during 1994 and early 1995.

During the seasonal sampling in 1994-1995, all sites were important for artisanal fishing, however, the coast of San Quintin represented 35% of the 51 panga trips, followed by Punta Baja (Bahia El Rosario) with 13.7%. Furthermore, San Quintin is important because it cointains, a well protected launching ramp in the bay, where other sites are usually affected by swell. The coast of San Quintin includes San Martin Island and different shallow rocky reefs which are good sites for ground and pelagic fishes.

The seasonal totals of fishes were highest during summer (n = 729) and fall (n = 755). The fish catch per trip was lowest during spring (42 fishes), but the values in the other seasons were not much higher (50-52 fishes/trip). This nonsignificant difference, probably represented the market demand and was not due to the weather. Usually, boat owners do not live in the fishing camps, and have various pangas in one or more sites. Pressure for fishing trips responds to the demand for fish. We consider the overall effort of fishing during the study as being low. Spring was represented by 12 trips, summer by 14, fall by 15, and winter by ten trips. All seasons included eight days of sampling per season, except winter which was sampled six days.

In this study, the "scale" fishery was supported by a small number of species, that together with the undetermined species of the rockfishes were the most important by the Index of Community Importance (ICI). Four species, C. princeps, S. pulcher, P. clathratus and P. californicus contributed with 60%, and when the rockfishes are added group summed 90% of the total catch. Because of their size, abundance and preference in the market, fishing activity is directed to these species which can be considered the target species.

The barred sand bass (Paralabrax nebulifer), a common constituent of the commercial fishery, was found in low numbers in the sampled period, while the kelp bass (P. clathratus) was relatively abundant. In a previous study during 1992-1993 El Nino event, we sampled within Estero de Punta Banda and reported that juveniles of the kelp bass, were collected in high numbers (hundreds per tow) during fall (Rosales-Casian 1995). In the present study, the white seabass (Atractoscion nobilis) and the shortfin corbina (Cynoscion parvipinnis), two important species in the commercial and sport fishery, were scarse.

In a recent study of the seafood market of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico during 2000-2001, 54 commercial fish species were found; the most abundant of these were the whitefish (C. princeps, 20.6%), the barred sand bass (P. nebulifer, 9.9%), the barred surfperch (Amphistichus argenteus, 6.6%), the Scorpaenidae (Sebastes sp. and Scorpaena sp., 6.2%), and golden spotted rock bass (Paralabrax auroguttatus) with 5.9% (Hernandez-Hernandez 2000). The golden spotted rock bass is abundant throughout the Gulf of California, and is valuable from commercial, sport fishing and ecological standpoints (Pondella et al 2001).

In a 1991 study on the sport fishing boats from Bahia de Todos Santos (Ensenada, B.C.), spotted scorpionfish (Scorpaena guttata), California barracuda (Sphyraena argentea), barred sand bass (P. nebulifer), sheephead (S. pulcher) and lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) were common fish species (>80% of occurrence), while whitefish (C. princeps), Pacific bonito (Sarda chilensis), white seabass (A. nobilis), and kelp bass (P. clathratus) were classified as occasional (40-60% of occurrence), and California halibut (Paralichthys californicus), California corbina (Menticirrhus undulatus), and yellowtail (Seriola lalandi) as rare species with 20% of occurrence. Different species of Sebastes also occurred in the three classifications (Rodriguez-Medrano 1993).

The coast of San Quintin was the most visited site for fishing trips and contributed 37.5% of the total catch during our study. The most important fish species changed slightly in the next order: the rockfishes, kelp bass, whitefish, and the Pacific barracuda. All of these species are also important to recreational fishing, that is a growing activity in San Quintin. In a study of sport fishing at natural reefs and near oil platforms off Santa Barbara, California, Love and Westphal (1990) reported that the rockfishes and kelp bass were the most abundant fishes. In our study rockfishes were present at all seasons with greatest abundance at spring and fall, while kelp bass were most abundant during summer and fall.

In a review of southern California landings from recreational fishing during 1994, unspecified rockfishes were reported as the most abundant fish in the catch, but the other species change in their abundance ranking in two studies, the L. A. Times newspaper (Calif. Dept. Fish Game 1995), and the landings from commercial passenger fishing vessels reported in the CDFG logbooks (Calif. Dept. Fish Game 1996).

Because of their abundance and frequency of occurrence, the multispecies rockfish group needs to be investigated in detail in future research. Furthermore, the lack of biological information on the whitefish (C. princeps), and the other species needs to be addressed.

The catch of the artisanal fishery at Baja California coasts is important because it is supported by different fish species as rockfishes, whitefish, sheephead, basses and others. Although in the present study, the number of boats sampled was small, the large coastal zone represented by both the Pacific and the Gulf of California, supports a greater number boats that would increase the catch volume. This is a fishery that need to be more studied in the future.

Table 1. Sampling dates, number of sampling boats, total and relative
abundance of fishes in the northwestern coast of Baja California,
during 1994 and early 1995.

 No. boats No. fishes

Date Season Monthly Season Monthly Season

April 13-16, 1994 Spring 7 230
May 24-27 Spring 5 12 275 505
August 2-5 Summer 9 487
September 7-10 Summer 5 14 242 729
October 14-16 Fall 5 274
November 8-12 Fall 10 15 481 755
December 14-18 Winter 6 301
January 19, 1995 Winter 54 10 200 501

Total 51 2490

 % Rel

Date Season Monthly Season

April 13-16, 1994 Spring 9.2
May 24-27 Spring 11.0 20.3
August 2-5 Summer 19.6
September 7-10 Summer 9.7 29.3
October 14-16 Fall 11.0
November 8-12 Fall 19.3 30.3
December 14-18 Winter 12.1
January 19, 1995 Winter 8.0 20.1

Total 100.0

Table 2. Fish species composition of the seasonal boat catches ranked
by relative abundance in the northwestern coast of Baja California,
during 1994 and early 1995.

 Species Spring Summer Fall Winter

Sebastes sp. 238 111 238 161
Semicossyphus pulcher 135 397 24 89
Caulolatilus princeps 75 54 262 47
Paralabrax clathratus 6 102 92 65
Paralichthys californicus 32 12 49 54
Seriola lalandi 31 74 6
Sphyraena argentea 12 6 18
Cheilotrema saturnum 0 0 21
Paralabrax nebulifer 0 0 18
Cynoscion parvipinnis 3 2 12
Ophiodon elongatus 5 0 3 8
Atractoscion nobilis 12 0 2 1
Girella nigricans 1 4 3 0
Stereolepis gigas 1 0 1
Scorpaena guttata 1 0 0
Coryphaena hippurus 1 0 0 0
Caranx hippos 1 0 0

Total 505 729 755 501

 Species Subtotal % Rel % Cum

Sebastes sp. 748 30.0 30.0
Semicossyphus pulcher 645 25.9 55.9
Caulolatilus princeps 438 17.6 73.5
Paralabrax clathratus 265 10.6 84.2
Paralichthys californicus 147 5.9 90.1
Seriola lalandi 111 4.5 94.5
Sphyraena argentea 36 1.4 96.0
Cheilotrema saturnum 21 0.8 96.8
Paralabrax nebulifer 18 0.7 97.6
Cynoscion parvipinnis 17 0.7 98.2
Ophiodon elongatus 16 0.6 98.9
Atractoscion nobilis 15 0.6 99.5
Girella nigricans 8 0.3 99.8
Stereolepis gigas 2 0.1 99.9
Scorpaena guttata 1 0.0 99.9
Coryphaena hippurus 1 0.0 100.0
Caranx hippos 1 0.0 100.0

Total 2490 100.0 100.0

Table 3. Fish species composition of the seasonal boat catches ranked
by the Index of Community Importance in the northwestern coast of Baja
California, during 1994 and early 1995.

 Species Total % Rel Rank % FO Rank ICI

Sebastes sp. 748 30.0 1 23.14 1 2
Caulolatilus princeps 438 17.6 3 16.16 2 5
Semicossyphus pulcher 645 25.9 2 13.10 3.5 5.5
Paralabrax clathratus 265 10.6 4 13.10 3.5 7.5
Paralichthys californicus 147 5.9 5 10.04 5 10
Seriola lalandi 111 4.5 6 5.68 6 12
Sphyraena argentea 36 1.4 7 3.49 8.5 15.5
Ophiodon elongatus 16 0.6 9 4.37 7 16
Cheilotrema saturnum 21 0.8 8 0.87 11 19
Paralobrax nebulifer 18 0.7 10.5 0.87 11 21.5
Girella nigricans 8 0.3 13 3.49 8.5 21.5
Cynoscion parvipinnis 17 0.7 10.5 1.75 13.5 24
Stereolepis gigas 2 0.1 14 0.87 11 25
Atractoscion nobilis 15 0.6 12 1.75 13.5 25.5
Scorpaena guttata 1 0.0 16 0.44 16 32
Coryphaena hippurus 1 0.0 16 0.44 16 32
Caranx hippos 1 0.0 16 0.44 16 32

Total 2490 100

Table 4. Fish species composition of the seasonal boat catches ranked
by the Index of Community Importance in the coast of San Quintin,
Baja California, during 1994 and early 1995.

 Species Total % Rel Rank % FO Rank ICI

Sebastes sp. 372 39.9 1.0 94.4 1.0 2.0
Paralabrax clathratus 231 24.8 2.0 72.2 2.5 4.5
Caulolatilus princeps 114 12.2 3.0 72.2 2.5 5.5
Seriola lalandi 75 8.0 4.0 33.3 4.5 8.5
Sphyraena argentea 36 3.9 5.0 38.9 4.0 9.0
Semicossyphus pulcher 29 3.1 6.0 33.3 4.5 10.5
Paralichthys californicus 7 0.8 8.0 27.8 6.0 14.0
Cheilotrema saturnum 21 2.3 7.0 11.1 8.5 15.5
Ophiodon elongatus 11 1.2 10.0 16.7 7.0 17.0
Paralabrax nebulifer 18 1.9 8.0 11.1 10.0 18.0
Atractoscion nobilis 5 0.5 11.0 11.1 8.5 19.5
Cynoscion parvipinnis 12 1.3 9.0 5.6 11.5 20.5
Girella nigricans 1 0.1 13.0 5.6 11.5 24.5
Coryphaena hippurus 1 0.1 13.0 5.6 11.5 24.5

Total 933 100.0


Thanks to Ricardo Troncoso-Gaytan, Jose Rivera-Ulloa, Miguel Espinoza-Partida and Francisco Martinez for participating in different samplings on the north-western coast of Baja California. Chema Dominguez drew and modified the map. We also thank Larry Allen (California State University, Northridge) and Dan Pondella (Occidental College, Los Angeles), and an other anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments on this manuscript.

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Accepted for publication 15 October 2002.

Jorge Adrian Rosales-Casian, (1) and Jose Ramon Gonzalez-Camacho (2)

(1) Departamento de Ecologia, Grupo de Ecologia Pesquera, Centro de Investigacion Cientifica y de Educacion Superior de Ensenada, B.C. (CICESE), Apartado Postal 2732, Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, U.S. Mailing: P.O. Box 434844, San Diego, California 92143-4844

(2) SAGARPA, Instituto Nacional de la Pesca, CRIP Ensenada, Apartado Postal 1306, Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico
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Author:Rosales-Casian, Jorge Adrian; Gonzalez-Camacho, Jose Ramon
Publication:Bulletin (Southern California Academy of Sciences)
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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