Garibaldi aka Ocean Goldfish — “Don’t keep ‘em”


Species: Hypsypops rubicundus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word hypsypops (high area below the eye) and the Latin word rubicunda (red).

Alternate Names: Golden perch, ocean sunfish and ocean goldfish. In Mexico called jaqueta garibaldi.

Identification: Garibaldi are distinguished by a brilliant golden orange coloring on the whole body—they’re one of the prettiest fish in our coastal waters. They are perch-shaped but very deep-bodied with large fins. The young are reddish orange with bright blue spots.

A juvenile garibaldi

Size: To 14 inches; pier-caught fish are usually under a foot.

Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California to Monterey Bay. Uncommon north of Santa Barbara and rare north of Point Conception.

Habitat: Shallow-water, rocky-shore areas and near kelp. Fitch and Lavenberg, in Tidepool and Nearshore Fishes of California, report that “A wide variety of food items has been found in garibaldi stomachs, including sponges, sea anemones, bryozoans, algae, worms, crustaceans, clams and mussels, snail eggs, and their own eggs.”  No wonder it is sometimes hard to keep them off a hook even though they’re illegal.

Piers: Often hooked at southern California piers located near kelp beds or rocky reefs. Best bets: Oceanside Harbor Pier, Dana Harbor Pier, Green Pleasure Pier and Cabrillo Mole in Avalon (where it’s hard not to hook them), and the Redondo Harbor Sportfishing Pier.



My daughter Kim and a garibaldi at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon

Bait and Tackle: None since they are illegal to take.

Food Value: None since you can’t keep them (and they aren’t supposed to taste very good anyway)!

Yours truly and a garibaldi at Catalina

Comments: It is illegal to keep these fish! But why? As related to me by a Fish and Game official, the regulation goes back many years and comes from Avalon. It seems that the glass bottom boats, a popular attraction at Avalon on Catalina Island, were worried that anglers (actually divers) were taking far too many of the beautifully colored fish and that it was bad for their business (since garibaldi are one of the most viewable fish from the boats). They got a law passed making it illegal to keep them in Avalon waters and soon after the question came up as why not make it illegal throughout the state. And so it was done! Today most anglers return the fish to the water if they’re hooked. But apparently a number are also speared illegally. Seems colorful fish are required at the wedding dinner tables of some Pacific Islanders and garibaldi are a favorite. Once again long-time cultural tradition clashes with today’s rules.

Garibaldi are one of California’s two official “state fish.” Garibaldi are the “saltwater” fish while golden trout are the “freshwater” fish.

Garibaldi (Ocean Goldfish) have always bee a favorite fish at Avalon on Catalina Island and one people thought should be protected:

The Finny Bachelor by W. E. Cortissoz

 I know a little garden, Beneath a green-gold sea

Where bright, bronze plants are growin’, And grow so gracefully.

 Amidst their undulations, A flash of gold I spied;

And in and out the waving, Kelp it seemed to hide.

 It was a little gold-fish, Who lived there all alone,

In this most lovely garden, In the Bay of Avalon.

 Day after day I find him, Alone in his domains;

He darts, then lingers, to and fro, And in his garden reigns.

 I see that he is happy, And that—his praise’ to One,

Who caused his life to happen, In the Bay of Avalon.

“Neath the music of the waters, In his garden of the sea,

Long may that garden denizen, Enjoy immunity.

 Immunity from humans, And maws of ev’ry gauge;

I want my little goldfish, To pass away from age!

 Catalina Islander, March 26, 1924

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