Q: This fish was caught on a long-range trip near Alijos Rocks, in the Pacific off the coast of Baja. The angler hooked it near bottom (either on a metal jig or chunk of sardine; I’m not certain which) over the shallow side of a drop-off, in 200 to 300 feet of water.
Sam Hudson -- Orlando, Florida
A: The identification of this one turned out to be kind of tricky. I recognized it as a member of the bigeye family, Priacanthidae. However, I have never seen any member of that family with yellow fins, so I was baffled. When I see a fish from a relatively out-of-the-way place (and Alijos Rocks certainly qualifies), I always suspect that perhaps we’re dealing with a species new to science. So I turned to Wayne Starnes, the world authority on this group of fishes, and he assured me that — despite the unusual coloration — it’s a bulleye, Cookeolus japonicus. True, every bulleye that I have seen had red fins, but there you go; that’s the way science sometimes works. Just when you think you know something, it turns out you don’t. Bulleye are deepwater reef fishes (living on bottom at about 100 to 1,300 feet), found worldwide in tropical or subtropical waters, and almost always around islands or offshore rocks. In the eastern Pacific, they have been taken from where this one was caught southward to Peru. The world-record bulleye measured about 27 inches long, so your fish appears to be a fairly healthy specimen. Bigeye feed above the bottom on small crustaceans such as krill. The difficulty in determining the species points out how little we know about a number of fishes. In many instances for a given species, only a handful of individuals — in fact sometimes only one individual — has ever been examined by a scientist. From the perspective of a West Coast researcher, I can suggest one way that anglers can help us understand more about fishes living in the eastern Pacific: When the tuna bite slows down on a long-range trip and the only option is to sit around and drink beer, try fishing the bottom with small baited hooks. And then take pictures of or even save the weirder stuff you catch. — Milton Love
Catch a glimpse of a small school of Indian Ocean bulleye in this underwater video.
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