California Barracuda

The Science

Known as the “Tigers of the Sea” due to their ferocious and feisty behaviors towards their prey

The Fishery

The largest recorded barracuda was 4.5 feet and 18.1 pounds compared to 10lb for an average female.

The Seafood

Barracuda offers the same protein content as salmon (38-39 g) however almost 9 grams of fat less per serving.

The Science

California Barracuda
Darren Baker/CC BY 3.0

Taxonomic description

  • Long, slender, almost round bodies.
  •  Large mouth with canine-like teeth; lower jaw projects beyond a sharply pointed snout; two dorsal fins that are small and widely spaced.
  • Dorsal side is grayish-black with a bluish tinge and the ventral side and belly are silvery or white. Tail is yellowish. Females have a charcoal black edge on the pelvic and anal fins; the same fins of males are edged in olive or yellow.
  • Body plan is a classic example of a lie-in-wait or ambush predator: relies on surprise and short bursts of speed to overrun their prey, sacrificing maneuverability.
  • Sexually Dimorphic. Females are larger and can reach up to 10lbs; males are around 3lbs.


  • Kodiak Islands, Alaska to Cape San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico.

Life history

  • Lives up to 12 years; Full sexual maturity occurs in males at length of 51 cm and females at 56 cm by 3 years of age.
  • Egg production per spawning period increases from 50,000 eggs at age 2 to upwards of 400,000 eggs by age 6.
  • Ability to spawn more than once per spawning season.
  • Off southern California, external fertilization takes place from April to September, peaking in June.


  • Prefers coastal areas near reefs or kelp, but has been found in waters as deep as 37 meters (120 ft).
  • Young (~15 cm length) are found in shallows in bays, marinas, and kelp forests [4]
  • Juveniles and adults from long, thin schools sometimes many miles long [4]
  •  Primary prey is anchovies and other small fishes such as sardines, young mackerel, and grunion; schools of barracuda known to herd prey into shallow water for easier capture [4]
  •  Predators include such birds as bald eagles and terns. 

The Fishery

D. Haworth

Seasonal availability

  • First sightings of schools occur in the middle of March, reaching a maximum between May and Late September/Early October.

Managing authority

  • No specific management plan for species.
  • NOAA Fisheries and Fishery Pacific Management Council regulate and provide management through the Federal Coastal Pelagic and Highly Migratory Species Fisheries Management Plans, within this fish is incidentally caught [6,7]

Gear type

  • Three types of commercial gear used are: circle nets (purse seines), gill nets, trolling, hook and line [1,9]

Status of the fishery

  • The minimum size legally permitted to be taken is 28 in [10]
  • In 1929, law was passed in regards to regulating purse seine and round haul net use between August 1 and April 30, when major spawning events take place.
  • The use of netting during these major spawning months is prohibited [9]
  • Populations decreased from the 1900s through the 1940s due to a rise in purse seine fishing, however populations have since recovered and are considered stable due to catch limits (size and number), replacement of purse seines with gill nets, substantial egg production, and decreased consumer demand for this species [1,4]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Gillnets have highest bycatch rates on marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds, and sharks of any fishing gear [9] 

The Seafood

Kiran Jethwa,

Edible portions

  • Meat with skin on or off.
  •  The Kama (collar) part is also a rich piece of meat that can be saved.
  • Female Roe from early in the season is edible as well.

Description of meat

  • Full flavor, meaty firm texture with large flakes, low fat content and off-white color when cooked.

Culinary uses

  • Used as steaks or fillets.  
  • Mostly eaten as fillets or steaks or whole dressed (gilled and gutted).
  • Common uses- Broiled, Baked, Poached, Smoked, and Sautéed or grilled.
  • No deep frying due to high oil content.

Nutrition Information

  • Nutrition information shown in table [11]

Toxicity report

  • Some larger barracuda species (especially in the Atlantic) have been associated with ciguatera poisoning. Locally caught fish have shown no signs of such toxicity.

Seasonal availability

  • Available fresh between April to Mid-September; Frozen available all year long. 


[1] Aquarium of the Pacific. California Barracuda. 2017. Accessed: 17 May 2017.

[2] Chefs Resources. Barracuda Fish. 2017. Accessed: 22 May 2017.

[3] Brown, S., P. Auster., L. Lauck. 1998.  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Ecological Effects of Fishing. 1-62.

[4] Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation. California Barracuda. 2017. Accessed 21 May 2017.

[5]Morgan, Lance. E. Shifting Gears: addressing the Collateral Impacts of Fishing Methods in U.S. Waters Accessed 20 May 2017.

[6] Pacific Fishery Management Council. 2006. Statues of the Pacific Coast coastal pelagic species fishery and recommended acceptable biological catches. Stock assessment and fishery evaluation -2006.

[7] Pacific Fishery Management Council. 2017. Accessed: 29, May 2017.

[8] Robertson, R., Collette, B., Molina, H., Guzman-Mora, A.G. & Salas, E. 2010. Sphyraena argentea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T178105A7488494.

[9] Shultze, D. L. California Barracuda Life History, Fisheries and Management. Vol. XXIV. 1983. 1-9.

[10] California Commercial Digest Fishing Regulations, 2015-16. CA Department of Fish and Game, Marine Region, CA, USA. 

[11] Barracuda,Web. Accessed: 21 September 2017.