Fish Facts: Croaker from the Abyss

Croakers are common in shallows around the world; who knew some species live thousands of feet deep?
Deep water croaker in the Pacific
The bigeye croaker has been caught in waters as deep as 3,000 feet and is found from southernmost Baja to Colombia. Martini Arostegui

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Most U.S. anglers are familiar with various species of croakers as small bottom feeding members of the large family Sciaenidae — which includes redfish, black drum and white seabass — from surf or shallow inshore waters. In the Southeast, for example, spot and Atlantic croakers are available oftentimes in great numbers.

Angling enthusiast and IGFA representative Martini Arostegui is very familiar with such inshore croakers. But to catch some sort of small croaker in about 800 feet of water, well offshore of Buena Vista on the southern Baja peninsula, in the Sea of Cortez, was something of a shocker.

“My friends and I batted around a few potential species’ names, but with our 25-year-old identification guide, we were unable to positively identify it and figured it might not be listed in that book,” says Arostegui, who now lives in Seattle but grew up in Florida.

We turned to an expert for help on this and got a two-fer, since he invoked a second expert. Milton Love, a biologist at the Marine Science Institute, University of California at Santa Barbara, knows his Pacific fishes. But this one gave him trouble.

“I hadn’t seen it before, and it was caught deeper than any published record for a croaker living in the Gulf of California,” he says. So he brought in Ross Robertson at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Robertson recognized it as the bigeye croaker, Umbrina bussingi.

Love says the species has been caught even deeper — from more than 3,000 feet of water — and is found from southernmost Baja to Colombia. It doesn’t get large, reaching only around a foot in length. The bottom dweller likely feeds on crustaceans, worms and small fishes. As common as croakers are worldwide, this is one species very few anglers have ever seen — or caught.