Ocean Whitefish

The Science

The fish’s bright yellow and turquoise pigmentation fades shortly after death [12]

The Fishery

One of the best places to fish for ocean whitefish commercially is the Channel Islands [12]

The Seafood

The diet of individuals feeding within kelp beds may confer a bitter taste to the flesh, though most have an attractive flavor [12]

The Science

Ben Cantrell, bencantrellfish.blogspot.org

Taxonomic description

  • Elongated body, 30.5-38 cm (12-15 inches) in length and usually weighing less than 3.6 kg (8 lbs.), but can be up to 102 cm (40 in.) long and 6.0 kg (13 lbs.) [12]
  • Light brown color with white underbelly; turquoise and yellow pectoral fins and yellow dorsal fin.  


  • Endemic to the Eastern Pacific, from British Columbia to Peru, though most commonly located near offshore islands and banks off the California coast, from Point Conception (Santa Barbara County) to Baja California, Mexico [2]  
  • The nature of migratory patterns remains uncertain, though similar to yellowtail or bonito they exhibit a northward migration from their Baja California spawning grounds that is likely facilitated by currents [12]

Life history

  • Mature at 3-5 years and can live to 13 years old [12]
  • Cool waters likely inhibit recruitment success [12], so spawning and most recruitment generally occur off Baja California, except during warm years when they occur off Southern California [2]
  • Prolonged spawning season lasts from late autumn to early spring [12]
  • External fertilization, resulting in pelagic eggs and larvae [1]
  • Show greater development (e.g., spination) in early life stages than most other ray-finned fish [1]
  • Solitary—does not form monogamous or polygamous mating arrangements [6]


  • Inhabit rocky reef habitat, from depths of about 3 to 150 meters [5]
  • Takes refuge in rocky reefs and nearby kelp beds at night, but may traverse deeper waters during the daytime to feed [2]
  • Diet consists of small invertebrates and fish, including crabs, shrimp, large krill, squid, anchovies, and lanternfish [2]
  • Eaten by giant sea bass, tope sharks, and California sea lions, among other things [2]
  • Six relevant metazoan parasite species have been identified that inhibit digestive and respiratory function [11]

The Fishery

Rosenstein School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Seasonal availability

  • No seasonal commercial fishing restrictions on this species [9]

Managing authority

  • Managed by the California Fish and Game Commission and California Dept of Fish and Wildlife and state legislature.
  • Regulated and managed by NOAA fisheries and Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) within the Federal groundfish fishery, as this species is common incidental catch in that fishery [3]
  • The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission coordinates research and management projects pertaining to interstate fisheries, but does not have regulatory power [10]

Gear type

  • Primarily hook and line, but also caught with longline (lines with multiple hooks), pot (wire traps), and gillnets (vertical netting) by fishermen seeking groundfish [9]

Status of the fishery

  • Popular sport catch and marginally popular commercially. No overfishing concern— commercial catch has not surpassed 22,680 kg since 1994 [12]. Extinction risk throughout its range is least concern [5]
  • As of the early 2000s, the size of the population off California and Baja California was uncertain [12]
  • No whitefish-specific regulations for commercial harvest, but minimum trawl mesh size limits and use of biodegradable gear components help protect the fishery’s juvenile populations and “inactivate” gear lost at sea [9]
  • The PFMC works with NOAA to identify and describe essential fish habitat for each species in the groundfish fishery, and supports the creation of ecosystem models that help ensure the fishery’s sustainability [9]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • PFMC identifies three ways to minimize ecosystem impacts: gear modifications, area closures, and overall reduction of fishing effort. Gear restrictions or closures in regions of particular ecological importance, as defined by factors such as substrate type, topography, and presence of biogenic habitat, help to minimize ecosystem disturbance [9] 

The Seafood

Bluewater Seafood Co.

Edible portions

  • Meat (muscle) from along whole body. Head, fins, and skin may be used in stock [7]

Description of meat    

  • Lean and flaky meat with mild flavor [7]
  • Fish caught near kelp beds sometimes have a bitter taste that is thought to be caused by diet [12]

Culinary uses

  • Most commonly available fresh— whole and as filets [7]
  • See [7] for prep instructions.
  • Filets prepared baked, grilled, pan-fried, poached; mild flavor makes its uses versatile [7]

Nutritional information 

  • A 100g serving has 19g of protein [8]

Toxicity report

  • Guidelines of 2-3 servings per week allowed for pregnant women and children [4]

Seasonal availability

  • Year round


[1] Ambrose, D., H. Moser, E. Sandknop, E. Stevens, and B. Sumida. 1986. Development and Distribution of Pelagic Juveniles of Ocean Whitefish, Caulolatilus Princeps, in the CalCOFI Survey Region. CalCOFI Rep. XXVII: 162-169.

[2] Belquist, L., J. Caselle, and C. Lowe. 2007. Fine-scale movement patterns, site fidelity, and habitat selection of ocean whitefish (Caulolatilus Princeps). Fisheries Research 91: 325-335.

[3] Current California Ocean Fishing Regulations. 2017. Web. www.wildlife.ca.gov. Accessed 20 April 2017.

[4] Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know. 2017. Web. www.fda.gov. Accessed 20 May 2017. 

[5] Findley, L., S. Bessudo, A. Acero, and A. Cotto. Caulolatilus Princeps. Web. www.iucnredlist.org. Accessed: 20 April 2017.

[6] Froese, R. 2017. Caulolatilus Princeps. Web. www.fishbase.org. Accessed: 17 May 2017.

[7] Grygus, A. 2015. Ocean Whitefish. Web. www.clovegarden.com. Accessed: 7 May 2017.

[8] Nutrition Facts-Whitefish fillet. 2017. Web. www.myfitnesspal.com. Accessed 20 May 2017.

[9] Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan. 2016. Pacific Fishery Management Council, Portland, OR.

[10] Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. 2012. Web. www.psmfc.org. Accessed 26 April 2017.

[11] Rodriguez-Santiago, M.A., and J.A. Rosales-Casian. 2010. Parasite structure of the Ocean Whitefish Caulolatilus Princeps from Baja California, Mexico (East Pacific). Helgoland Marine Research 65:215.

[12] Wertz, L., and S. Kato. 2004. Annual Status of the Fisheries Report. 12-1. California Department of Fish and Game, Marine region, Monterey, CA.