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What Is a Surfperch?

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  • Written By: B. Koch
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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The surfperch, also known as seaperch, or Embiotocidae, is a family of fish that consists of 23 species. They reside primarily off the west coast of North American, from California to Alaska, and they are popularly sought after by fishermen. Embiotocidae typically have flat, short bodies and give birth to live young. They prefer rocky, coastal habitats.

These fish exist in a wide range of habitats, ranging from southern Alaska to Baja California. Within North America, there are a number of common species of surfperch, including the redtail, the shiner, and the striped surfperch. Although most species reside in the northern Pacific Ocean, three to four species exist in the waters off the coast of Japan.

Surfperch can be identified by their thin, short bodies and flat, large eyes. These fish have a single dorsal fin and a forked tail fin. They range between 4 to 18 inches (10 to 46 centimeters) long, depending on the species and weigh 1 to 5 pounds (0.5 to 2 kilograms). All are brightly colored, and some have a striped pattern. Surfperch live to be about six years old.

A type of carnivorous fish, surfperch consume a number of small sea creatures. These include crustaceans, worms, mussels, and fish eggs. Their exact diet, however, varies depending on their habitat and the time or year. Usually, surfperch feed in the morning hours, which is why fishermen seek them out during this time.

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One unusual trait of surfperch is that they give birth to live young. This is remarkable because most fish lay eggs. Female surfperches usually raise their young in aquatic vegetation to protect them from predators, although they may also use docks or pilings as rearing habitats.

Fishermen often fish for specific species of surfperch, such as the red tail, striped, and shiner surfperch. Usually, the fishing season for these fish, on the Pacific coast, runs from May to July. The surfperch can live at all depths, but most often stays between depths 70 to 400 feet (23 to 133 meters).

The growing number of marinas near shorelines and estuaries may threaten the surfperch. They often reside in marinas and docks, but poor timber can release toxins into their water. Ineffective land management during construction may also result in erosion and increased run-off, increasing the level of agricultural toxins in the water.

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