Green Sturgeon

Order Acipenseriformes

 Sturgeons—Family Acipenseridae

Green sturgeon caught by Matty at the McNear Pier in 2006

Species: Acipenser medirostris (Ayres, 1854); from the Latin words Acipenser (bony cartilage), medi (moderate), and rostris  (snout).

Alternate Names: Golden sturgeon. Called esturión verde in Mexico.

Identification: Green sturgeon have streamlined, shark-like bodies with a pointed head that is longer than white sturgeon (shovel-shaped in young) and small eyes. Instead of scales they have five rows of scutes (bony plates) on the body; one row on the back, one at the middle of each side, and one on each side of the belly). Green sturgeon have 8-11 dorsal scutes, 23-30 midlateral scutes, and 7-10 ventral scutes. There are four whiskers (barbels) under their snout, usually closer to the mouth than to the tip of the snout. Their coloring is grayish white to olive-green, although some are caught every year that are almost golden in color (and thus given the name golden sturgeon). To differentiate between green and white sturgeon (from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife): (1) Dorsal scutes (bony plates) – Green sturgeon have 1-2 trailing the dorsal fin, but on white sturgeon they are absent; (2) Vent – Green sturgeon vent is between the pelvic fins, but on white sturgeon it’s found toward the tail; (3) Belly stripe – Present on green sturgeon but absent on white sturgeon; (4) Scutes along the side – Green sturgeon have 23-30 scutes while white sturgeon have 38-48

Green sturgeon taken at the McNear Pier in 2006

Size: To 7 feet in length and 350 pounds. Most green sturgeon caught from piers are less than 25 pounds; most caught in the ocean are small fish under 10 pounds. Two 36-inch fish were caught off of the Belmont Shores Pier in Long Beach; one weighed 6.6 pounds, the other only 5.1 pounds.

Range: From Ensenada, northern Baja California, to the Pacific coast of Kamchatka, Bering Sea, and Gulf of Alaska, to Peter the Great Bay, Sea of Japan.

Habitat: Anadromous, spending most of its adult life in salt water but ascending up fresh water streams in the winter to spawn. Most commonly found in bays and brackish water (part fresh water and part salt water). Their diet emulates that of white sturgeon with young greenies primarily feeding on insects, worms, amphipods, and other small invertebrates. Adults become more piscivorous, feeding on fish as well as bottom dwelling crustaceans and mollusks (crabs, shrimp, clams).

Green sturgeon taken at the Martinez Pier by John Mason in 2004

Piers: Although less common than white sturgeon, a few greens are still caught each year, primarily from piers in San Francisco Bay-Delta waters. Best bets: Point Pinole Pier, McNear Beach Pier, Paradise Park Pier, Eckley Pier, Martinez Pier, Antioch Marina Pier, and Antioch Pier.

Shoreline: Sometimes taken by anglers in the San Francisco-Bay Delta although now illegal to keep.

Boats: A few are seen each year from boats in the San Francisco-Bay Delta waters but they no longer can be kept.

Bait and Tackle: None since they are now illegal to keep.

Food Value: None since they no longer can be kept! In states where they are still legal they are considered to have mild-flavored meat that contains no bones and cuts up nicely into steaks for broiling, baking or frying. Some people feel the meat of the green sturgeon is inferior to that of white sturgeon since it is somewhat stronger flavored, containing more red muscle. Others say there is little difference.

Young green sturgeon at the Martinez Pier in 2004

Comments: Perhaps endangered and currently illegal to keep in California. It’s amazing that we have let the number of sturgeon reach this crisis point but it’s been happening for the last couple of centuries.

“We tend to dismiss the sturgeon, if we think of it at all, as a primitive fish, and allow that to account for its rarity. In our collective memory we forget that as recently as 1890 the biomass of Atlantic and short-nosed sturgeons in Deleware Bay were in the neighborhood of 48 million pounds; that at the same time fishermen in Washington’s Columbia and Baker rivers were unable to use their gillnets in the spring because hordes of white sturgeon would have burst through them; that in Austria, on the Danube River, members of the Viennese royal court amused themselves by firing cannonballs into fleet-sized squadrons of migrating beluga sturgeons. But the sturgeon is geologic time made flesh, and the length of its tenure on earth is impossible to comprehend. The fossil record presents completely modern forms of sturgeon dating back to the Upper Cretaceous, 100 million years ago.”

—Richard Adams Carey, The Philosopher Fish

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California Scorpionfish

Order Scorpaeniformes

 Scorpionfishes and Rockfishes — Family Scorpaenidae

 Genus Scorpaena

California Scorpionfish

Species: Scorpaena guttata (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word scorpaena (scorpion, referring to the poison spines), and the Latin word guttata  (a form of small drops or spotting).

Alternate Names: Commonly called sculpin although also called scorpionfish, scorpion, little poker, rattlesnake and scorpene. Early records show stingfish and spinefish as favorite appellations. In Mexico they’re called escorpión Californiano.

Scorpionfish caught by KJ from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon in 2010

Identification: Typical rockfish shape, heavy-bodied and with strong head and fin spines. Their coloring is red (deeper water) to brown (more shallow water) with dark spotting over the body and fins. Fin spines are venomous and can cause a very painful, although not fatal, wound.

Size: To 17 inches, although most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. The California record was for a fish weighing 3 lb 0 oz. It was caught at the Silver Strand Beach in 1997.

Scorpionfish from the Mole in 2010

Range: Uncle Sam Bank, central Baja California, and the Gulf of California, to Santa Cruz. They are uncommon north of Point Conception.

Habitat: Most abundant in shallow rocky environments such as rocky reefs, sewer pipes and wrecks; frequently found in caves and crevices. Some are also found on sand. Found from fairly shallow water down to 620 feet. May travel over 200 miles in annual spawning migrations (spring and early summer) that see them form large spawning aggregations on or near the bottom (at a variety of depths)

Scorpionfish missing a piece out of its tail — Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon in 2013

Piers: Although scorpionfish are most common around rocky areas and reef areas, I have seen them caught at almost every oceanfront pier in southern California. Best bets: Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon) and the Cabrillo Mole (Avalon).

Shoreline: Occasionally caught by shore anglers fishing rocky areas in southern California.

Scorpionfish caught by Kien at the Cabrillo Mole in 2011

Boats: A common catch by boaters in southern California, especially those fishing at Catalina and the Horseshoe kelp area of Los Angeles.

Bait and Tackle: Scorpions are carnivorous, ambush predators that are primarily nocturnal, feeding at night. Their main diet consists of small crabs, octopus, shrimp, and small fish. A high/low leader with size 4 hooks baited with squid or shrimp seems to work best although they also really like ghost shrimp. Still, I’ve caught them on cut anchovies, strips of mackerel, pile worms, and one on a live queenfish that seemed almost as large as the scorpionfish; they’re not too discriminating as far as food.  

Scorpionfish caught at the Oceanside Pier in 2013

Food Value:  An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried (although they are a favorite fish for sushi and command top prices when fresh fish are available).

Scorpionfish caught by KJ from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon in 2014

Comments: Handle with extreme care. California scorpionfish are the most venomous member of the family found in California. If handled in a careless manner and a puncture wound does occur there will usually be pain (sometimes intense) and perhaps swelling that should subside after a few hours. If possible, soak the affected area in hot water as soon as practical (since the hot water alters the toxin and makes it less harmful). Multiple punctures may require doctor’s attention or even hospitalization. The worst story I ever heard of such multiple punctures concerned a middle-aged angler fishing from a boat near Catalina. This lady had caught upwards of a dozen scorpionfish that were dutifully deposited into her gunnysack. Unfortunately, many of the long spines were protruding from her bag when a heavy wave caused her to lose her footing and to fall, bottom-first, onto the bag. The result was butt-porcupine and a helicopter trip back to a hospital.

Ed Roberts of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and his son Daniel’s first scorpionfish. At the Belmont Pier Kid’s Derby in 2006.

Although studies showed a decline in population before 1980, they seem to have increased and today have a healthy population.

A nice scorpionfish caught at the Green Pleasure Pier in Catalina in 2002

A scorpionfish caught at the Hermosa Beach Pier by Mahigeer (Hashem) in 2006

Scorpionfish caught by Eugene Kim at the Cabrillo Mole in Catalina in 2010

A scorpionfish caught at the Goleta Pier by SteveO in 2003

Not the way I would hold a scorpionfish since even the small ones can inflict a painful sting

Scorpionfish caught at the Coronado Mini Piers in 2003 by OBPier.rat

A baby Scorpionfish caught at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon by Cole in 2010

You look’in at me? 

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Minnow Magnet

Minnow Magnet (Justin Morris) and his dad Rockin Robin (Robin Morris) joined the PFIC family in 2004 and soon after Justin became a regular at PFIC events both in the Bay Area and at Catalina. He also set up his own pier fishing derby at the Paradise Beach Pier. As he grew he branched out—surf fishing, rock fishing, boat fishing, freshwater fishing (including some carp fishing) and boat fishing. However, unlike most of our youngsters who continued to fish, but also moved on to other fields as they got older, Justin has remained with fishing working on both Sportfishing boats and now owning his own commercial fishing boat. Fishing got into his blood — and stayed there.

Minnow Magnet and myself at the 2004 Mud Marlin Derby at the Berkeley Pier

Minnow Magnet and a blackperch from the Berkeley Pier in 2004

Minnow decided to start his own mud marlin derby in 2004 at the Paradise Beach Pier in Tiburon

Minnow Magnet and a small bat ray (mud marlin) he caught at his derby

Some pics from his 2004 derby

Justin at the 2005 derby at the Paradise Beach Pier

Minnow Magnet and a brown smoothhound shark

Justin and his dad Robin, each with a bat ray from the Paradise Beach Pier in 2005

Minnow Magnet and a walleye surfperch from the Berkeley Pier in 2006

Minnow Magnet and Kyle Pease arriving at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon for the 2006 Catalina Get Together — Notice each has his own pier cart

Minnow and his dad Robin looking at some of the raffle prizes at the 2006 Get Together

Justin with a certificate and prizes at the 2006 Catalina Get Together

Minnow Magnet and his 2006 Paradise Pier Mud Marlin Derby

Justin and a small rockfish from the Pillar Point Harbor Pier in 2006

Minnow and a bat ray from the Berkeley Pier in 2007

Justin and a thornback ray from the Berkeley Pier in 2007

Justin and a pileperch from the Berkeley Pier in 2007

Minnow fighting a fish at the Catalina Get Together in 2007

A collage from the 2007 Catalina Get Together with Justin holding a garabaldi

Three amigos at the 2007 Catalina Get Together

Participants (including Justin in  the front) at the 2007 Get Together

Justin and his picture for his 2007 derby

Minnow Magnet at the 2009 Mud Marlin Derby at the Berkeley Pier

Minnow Magnet and his trophy at the 2010 Berkeley Perch Derby

A few years later! Justin serving as a deckhand (left) on the “Golden Eye” out of the Berkeley Marina in 2014

One in a series of PFIC Young Angler articles

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Kyle Pease

Although the majority of anglers attending Pier Fishing In California (PFIC) or United Pier and Shore Anglers of California (UPSAC) events have been adults, many of them have brought along their children and made it a family event. One of our most esteemed anglers, Rita Magdamo, has always made it a point to bring along her son Kyle and it has allowed us to watch his progression from youngster to college student.

Kyle at a PFIC gathering at the Seacliff State Beach Pier in 2004

Kyle with a sheephead at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon in 2005

Kyle and another of our young anglers, Minnow Magnet, arriving in Catalina in 2006

Kyle and a bonito at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon (Catalina Island) in 2006

Kyle with a sheephead taken at the Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon in 2006

Kyle, RoosterQueen (Rebecca Cassidy) and Baitfish (Adam Cassidy) at the Cabrillo Mole in 2006

Kyle with mom Rita and some ocean whitefish caught at Pebble Beach near Avalon on Catalina Island

 Kyle and an opaleye from the Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon in 2008

Kyle and an ocean whitefish from the Green Pleasure Pier in 2008

Kyle with a trophy at the Catalina Get-Together in 2009

Kyle fishing at the Green Pleasure Pier in 2011

Kyle at the Green Pleasure Pier in 2011

Kyle and a small kelp bass at the Cabrillo Mole in 2011

Kyle casting for bonito at the Cabrillo Mole in 2012

Kyle (now a man-child) and his trophy at the Cabrillo Mole in 2012

The Catalina get-Together group in 2012 (and Kyle is now one of the tallest participants)

Kyle at the Cabrillo Mole in 2014

Kyle fishing at the Cabrillo Mole in 2014

Mom Rita, a triggerfish she caught at the Cabrillo Mole, and Kyle — 2014

Kyle and his trophy at the Catalina Get-Together (and James Liu Memorial Derby) in 2014.

Kyle wins a raffle prize and dwarfs yours truly at the Mole in 2014

The Catalina Get-Together group in 2014

Dinner at Antonio’s in Avalon in 2014 — Back row—Rita Magdamo, Hashem Nahid, Dora Liu, Warren Liu and Kyle; Front row—Steve Barcellos, Elaine Liu and Amanda Liu


Kyle and bonito from the Cabrillo Mole in 2015

Kyle and a horn shark from the Cabrillo Mole in 2015

Fish On! Kyle and an early morning bonito bite at the Mole — 2015

Kyle fishing in the rain — Cabrillo Mole in 2015

Kyle and another award at the Mole in 2015

Kyle and part of the group at the 2015 Get Together

Kyle serving as a judge at the 2015 Marin Rod & Gun Club “Kids Day on the Pier”

Kyle, now a student at UC Berkeley, getting in a little fishing at the Marin Rod & Gun Club pier after the derby. He’s now a man, although still a man-child to Rita, and one of the nicest young men we know.

One in a series of PFIC Young Angler articles

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Pacific Sardine







Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Species: Sardinops sagax (Jenyns, 1842); from the Latin word sardine  (sardina), the Greek word ops  (like), and the Latin word sagux  (of quick perception, acute or alert).

Alternate Names: Pilchard, ‘dines, dinies (small sardines) and dinos, firecrackers (small sardines), rhinos or trout (large sardines). Called sardina Monterrey in Mexico.

Identification: Cigar-shaped like herring but blue green above, silverfish-white below, and identified by a series of black spots on the back. (Fish Bulletin #28 said they had dark green coloring on the back with opalescent reflections, shading into iridescent  silvery sides with round black spots of varying degree).

Size: Up to 16 1/4 inches but most caught from piers are under a foot in length.

A LARGE sardine caught at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara

Range: Guaymas, Mexico to Kamchatka, Alaska.

Habitat: Pelagic in nature but generally in nearshore waters. At times, moves into shallower water and bays but found from the surface down to about 80 feet. They generally travel in very large schools called “shoals” and frequently school with Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, and anchovies.

Piers: Sardines experience up and down cycles in numbers but when present can be caught at almost every California pier. I have caught them at 28 piers ranging from the Imperial Beach Pier near the Mexican border to Citizen’s Dock in Crescent City, just over 20 miles from the Oregon border. I never caught a sardine at a California pier from 1962 until 1990 when I landed a few at the Seal Beach Pier and Belmont Veterans Pier in Long Beach. However, I soon began to catch them at many piers and by 1994 I had  experienced phenomenal fishing at several piers (especially those in the Morro Bay area). From that point until the last few years have seen continued catches (with the most recent being at the Eureka Boardwalk in 2016). Best bets when present: Newport Pier, Balboa Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Port Hueneme Pier, Gaviota Pier, Pismo Beach Pier, Avila Pier, Port San Luis Pier, Morro Bay T-Piers, Cayucos Pier, San Simeon Pier, Monterey Wharf #2, Capitola Wharf, Santa Cruz Wharf and the Johnson Pier in Pillar Point Harbor.

Sardines caught at the Santa Cruz Wharf in 2003

Shoreline: Rarely taken from shore excepting in bays—Morro Bay, San Francisco Bay and Humboldt Bay.

Boats: Rarely taken from boats unless “making bait.”

Bait and Tackle: Light tackle. Generally caught on bait rigs like Lucky Lura or Sabiki outfits. Also can be caught on size 8-10 hooks fished with a small piece of pile worm or very small strip of anchovy. Puts up a very credible fight for its size.

Food Value:  Can be baked, broiled, bar-b-cued, or pickled. Considered somewhat superior to its cousin Pacific herring.

Comments: Most people have heard the stories of the tremendous commercial catches of sardines back in the 1930s and ’40s—catches in the billions. Then there was a virtual disappearance of sardines for many years with anchovies replacing them in many areas. Many scientists blamed overfishing for the collapse of the fishery, others claimed it was a cyclical phenomenon related, at least in part, to water temperature. Today most scientists feel there were a number of different causes that, in connection with the over fishing and change in water temperatures, led to the collapse. Recent decades, as mentioned above, saw an increase in the number of sardines. That’s the good news! The bad news is that sardines are in decline once again. NOAA Fisheries reports that “the population took a nose dive and dropped by roughly 90 percent between 2007 and 2016. In response to this crash, in April 2015 the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to close the directed commercial fishery. This week [April 12, 2016] the Council voted to keep the fishery closed for another year.” The following articles give evidence of the problem.

Pacific Sardine

The Role of Fishing in the Pacific Sardine Collapse

As Pacific sardine collapse worsens, scientists worry about ecosysyem ripple

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