Strange and Interesting Fish

Sport Fishing's Fish Facts for December features five fish you probably have never seen before.

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The Louvar -- an oceanic oddity from Hawaiian waters

This photo of a 225-pound mystery fish was submitted by Capt. Molly Palmer of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, taken on the charter Renegade with Capt. Shawn Potter. SF Fish Facts expert Ben Diggles says The Louvar (Luvarus imperialis) — also called luvaru, silver king or emperodor — is a unique-looking fish that occurs in tropical and subtropical waters of all the world's oceans. This species is the only member of the family Luvaridae, and their closest relatives are thought to be the surgeonfishes. They have a tunalike body with pink fins, small mouth and eyes that are positioned low on the head. Unlike small surgeonfishes, louvars can grow to nearly 7 feet long and upwards of 320 pounds. Although widely distributed around the world, they're not a particularly common species anywhere, only occasionally captured by commercial fishers using purse seines or drift nets. They are even more rarely encountered by recreational anglers, with single fish being most often encountered on the surface by anglers fishing over deep waters. They feed mainly on jellyfishes. Spawning occurs during the summer months, and large female louvar are renowned for producing huge numbers of eggs. Inside one 6-foot-long specimen, scientists found nearly 50 million eggs. Testing of large louvar in European markets has found them to have high mercury levels, such that more than one meal a week would be of health concern to women of childbearing age.
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Hook 'Em Longhorns

From 180 feet of water over the wreck Coimbra came this critter, submitted by Alex Wruck of Eastport, New York. What is it? he wondered. Mystery solved by SF's Northeast Fish Facts expert Mike Fahay. "Alex, that's a longhorn sculpin, Myoxocephalus octodecemspinosus." (Say that three times fast!) It's a member of the sculpin family, Cottidae. "The longhorn occurs in a wide variety of habitats and depths, including harbors and estuaries," Fahay says, "between Newfoundland and New Jersey (rarely as far south as Virginia). They are probably considered "bait-stealers" in most places. They have no commercial value, although they were once harvested by spear or hook-and-line to be used as lobster-trap bait. This practice seems to have disappeared. If you're wondering what predators might eat these spiny-headed fishes, the list includes cod, spiny dogfish, various skates, monkfish and white hake. Cormorants are also adept at swallowing them. They average about 10 inches, so I was surprised to see this 18-incher. It could have been entered as an all-tackle world record since none exists for the species."
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A "Lanetail" Snapper?

This unusual snapper (center) looks like a cross between a lane snapper (bottom) and a yellowtail snapper (top). Could this be a true hybrid? asks Dave Knutson of Jupiter, Florida, of the fish caught off Jupiter, Florida (where he's got other ostensible hybrid snapper). Yes, says SF's Florida-based Fish Facts expert, Ray Waldner. "I've examined your catch and believe it's a hybrid resulting from a cross between a yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus) and a lane snapper (Lutjanus synagris), Dave. Much of the fish's pigmentation is similar to that of yellowtail snapper, as is its mouth. However, the red pigmentation on the fish's caudal fin, as well as the color of its caudal peduncle (the narrow area immediately in front of the caudal fin) is atypical of yellowtail snapper, and its forehead profile most closely resembles that of a lane snapper. There are several references to yellowtail snapper and lane snapper interbreeding in the ichthyological literature, so hybridization between these species is known to occur. Yellowtail/lane snapper hybrids also raise an interesting taxonomic question: Is the genus Ocyurus really distinct from Lutjanus? The morphological differences between the fishes in these genera are relatively minor and might be due to ecological differences. Additionally, the fact that species in these two genera can interbreed and produce viable hybrids indicates that they are genetically more similar than their current classification suggests. Thus, we might see yellowtail snapper included in the genus Lutjanus sometime in the future."
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What in the Hake is This?

Whatever this is, it's not the swordfish that Brett Holden of Houston had in mind when dropping baits to 1,900 feet off the Texas coast. It ate a 1-pound squid on the bottom. Bob Shipp, SF's Gulf of Mexico Fish Facts expert jumps in fearlessly to declare this an offshore hake" "Brett, your catch is a member of the codfish family, Gadidae, and is most likely the offshore hake, Merluccius albidus. Although most folks have heard of cods, haddock and pollocks, it's surprising how many other members of this most famous fish family are found in our waters. Most of these are relatively small, deepwater species like your catch, and have various common names, mostly some variation of the name hake. The family has some distinctive characteristics, especially a dorsal fin that's spineless and divided into two or three parts. The giveaway for the offshore hake is the expanded back portion of the dorsal, which I think I see in your photo. The only other hake with this character is the silver hake,_ M. bilinearis,_ but it doesn't occur this far south_._ Offshore hakes inhabit waters to depths to nearly 4,000 feet, from Maine to Brazil. They top off at about a foot and a half, weighing a couple of pounds. And like all members of the cod family, these make fine table fare. This is another catch that would have been a potential all-tackle record if caught on nonelectric gear, since there's been no entry for the species to date."
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Little Bass With a Mighty Big Appetite

Yellowedge grouper -- that's what Dario Brillembourg of Caracas had in mind when jigging 400 feet on La Guaira Bank off Venezuela -- certainly not a fish about a third the length of the jig! But that's what he caught. But what did he catch? A saddle bass, says Ray Waldner. At least, it is a member of the grouper family (Serranidae)! Saddle bass are found in moderately deep water from Florida south into South American waters. Their pigmentation may vary somewhat.This would be an adult since they reach only 4 inches or so in length.