Ocean Whitefish

Caulolatilus princeps

Robertson, D Ross/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Science


The fish’s bright yellow and turquoise pigmentation fades shortly after death.

Ben Cantrell/iNaturalist

Taxonomic description

  • Has an elongated body, 30.5-38 cm (12-15 inches) in length and usually weighs 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 its 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

  • Matures 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 it occurs off Southern California. [2]
  • Prolonged spawning season lasts from late autumn to early spring. [12]
  • External fertilization, resulting in pelagic eggs and larvae. [1]
  • Shows greater development (e.g., spination) in early life stages than most other ray-finned fish. [1]
  • Solitary—it does not form monogamous or polygamous mating arrangements. [6]


  • Inhabits 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]
  • Predators include giant sea bass, tope sharks, and California sea lions, among other things. [2]
  • Six metazoan parasite species have been identified that inhibit the ocean whitefish's digestive and respiratory function. [11]


The Fishery


One of the best places to fish for ocean whitefish commercially is the Channel Islands!


Seasonal availability

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

Regulatory and managing authority

  • As this fish is caught as bycatch for the groundfish fishery, it is managed by NOAA fisheries. [3]
  • As established by the Marine Life Management Act, the California Fish and Game Commission regulates the fishery, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages this fishery in state waters. [13]
  • As it is not a commercially targeted species, there are currently no formal management plans in place but this fishery is monitored. [3]

Gear type

  • Primarily caught with hook and line, but is 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 of 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


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


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]

Culinary uses

  • Most commonly available fresh— whole and as filets. [7]
  • See Clove Garden for prep instructions and recommendations. [7]
  • This fish may be cooked whole, filets can be prepared baked, grilled, pan-fried, poached; its mild flavor makes its uses versatile. [7]
  • For a West African fish stew recipe that can utilize this fish, visit Jayne Rain. [14]
  • For an Ecuadorian fish with coconut sauce recipe, visit Laylita's Recipes. [15]

Nutritional information 

  • Nutritional information for 100g of ocean whitefish is available here. [8]

Toxicity report

  • No toxins known, FDA recommends 2-3 servings per week of whitefish 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. https://www.calcofi.org/publications/calcofireports/v27/CalCOFI_Rpt_Vol…;

[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. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.FISHRES.2007.12.011

[3] California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2019. Ocean Whitefish, Caulolatilus princeps, Enhanced Status Report. Web. https://marinespecies.wildlife.ca.gov/ocean-whitefish/. Accessed 2 September 2020. 

[4] Food and Drug Administration. n.d. Advice about Eating Fish. Web. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish. Accessed 2 September 2020. 

[5] Findley, L., S. Bessudo, A. Acero, and A. Cotto. Caulolatilus Princeps. Web. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2010-3.RLTS.T183991A8212524.en. Accessed: 20 April 2017.

[6] Froese, R. 2017. Caulolatilus Princeps. Web. https://www.fishbase.in/summary/3539. Accessed: 17 May 2017.

[7] Grygus, A. 2015. Ocean Whitefish. Web. http://www.clovegarden.com/ingred/sf_tileowz.html. Accessed: 7 May 2017.

[8] Nutrition Facts-Whitefish fillet. 2017. Web. https://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/canadian-whitefish-fillet-44…. Accessed 20 May 2017.

[9] Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan. 2016. Pacific Fishery Management Council, Portland, OR. https://www.pcouncil.org/documents/2016/08/pacific-coast-groundfish-fishery-management-plan.pdf/

[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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10152-010-0215-2.

[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. https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=34392&inline=true%E2%80%9D%20originalAttribute=.

[13] Marine Life Management Act. n.d. California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Web. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Marine/MLMA. Accessed 24 August 2020. 

[14] Rain, J. Jayne Rain. 2020. West African Fish Stew. Web. https://jayne-rain.com/tomato-based-fish-stew-recipe-african-style/. Accessed 15 January 2021. 

[15] Pujol, L. Laylita's Recipes. n.d. Ecuadorian pescado encocado or fish with coconut sauce. Web. https://www.laylita.com/recipes/pescado-encocado-or-fish-with-coconut-s…. Accessed 15 January 2021.

[16] Cantrell, B. iNaturalist. 2019. Digital image. Web. https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/59339133. Accessed 18 February 2021. 

[17] vireolanius. iNaturalist. 2019. Digital image. Web. https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/44292918. Accessed 18 February 2021. 

[18] stu_spivack. flickr. 2010. ceviche. Digital image. Web. https://flickr.com/photos/stuart_spivack/4848413456. Accessed 18 February 2021.