Shovelnose Guitarfish

The Science

A sit and wait predator during the day, the guitarfish hunts by staying hidden in the sand until it sees prey [11]. At night, the guitarfish actively hunts prey near the seafloor [11]

The Fishery

Once a trash fish discarded by fishermen, there is now demand for these fish [11]

The Seafood

The guitarfish is often sold as “fish n’ chips” in Santa Barbara [6]

The Science

Shovelnose Guitarfish
Alex Bairstow/CC BY-NC 4.0

Taxonomic description

  •  A ray that grows up to 1.7 m long, is a brownish grey color that blends in with the sand, and has a flat body [11]
  •  Guitarfish use their long tails to move through the water, making them resemble sharks more than other rays [11]


  • Ranges from Northern California to the Gulf of California [11]

Life history

  • Lives about 11-16 years [4]
  • Mature males have large claspers proportional to their bodies and have spines. Females are mature when their shell gland and uteri are developed [6]  
  • Males mature at 8 years old and females mature at 7 years old [4]
  • Mating occurs every summer between monogamous partners. Females carry eggs for 9-12 months before giving birth to a litter of 6-28 pups [4]
  • Females give birth in shallow waters from June to October [4]


  • Lives on the sandy seafloor of bays and estuaries up to 12 m deep [11]
  • Preys on crabs, worms, small fish, and clams [11]
  • Preyed on by large birds and mammals [4]  
  • Their generally shallow habitat makes them easy catch for fishermen, though their population is not in danger because, historically, there has not been a high demand for shovelnose meat [6] 

The Fishery

Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

Seasonal availability

  • Available year-round, though from 2013-2015 landings (in lbs) in California were lowest (close to zero) from July through September, and highest in either January (2013, 2015) or November (2014) [7] 

Managing authority

  • Regulated and managed by NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Management Council through the Federal Groundfish Fishery Plan; even though this species is not specifically listed it is likely incidental catch in some of the covered fisheries [5]
  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife, as covered as an emerging fishery under CDFW Code [10] and the Marine Life Management Act [2]  

Gear type

  • Similar groundfish species are caught with traps, hooks, and lines; even though this species is not specifically listed it is likely caught with similar gear [12]

Status of the fishery

  • Species may be vulnerable to overfishing because long-lived, taking a long time to reach maturity and reproduce, and pregnant females in some regions swim in shallow water where they are easy to catch [3]
  • Population is decreasing and is near threatened [1]
  • No catch limit regulations or conservation efforts are in place [1]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • As with other fish, the guitarfish plays a role in the ecosystem as predator and prey, so drastic declines could dramatically affect the ecosystem [4, 3] 

The Seafood

Terry B,

Edible portions

  • Trunk, tail, and loin areas of the fish are generally used [6]

Description of meat

  • Meat is often served fried and buttery, but can also be thick like steak [6,9]

Culinary uses

  • Usually called “shark steak” or sold in “fish n’ chips” in Santa Barbara. Dried guitarfish also sold as curios [6]
  • Common recipes for the shovelnose guitarfish could not be found, but it can be cooked using recipes for rays and skates (See reference [8] for a recipe for skate meunière with caper butter).  

Nutritional information 

  • Nutritional info for shovelnose guitarfish could not be found; shown is Skate Wing [9,13]

Toxicity report

  • No known toxins or dietary warnings/guidelines currently exist.

Seasonal availability

  • Typically available year round, with some variation depending on the year [7]


[1] Farrugia, T.J., Márquez-Farías, F., Freedman, R.M., Lowe, C.G, Smith, W.D. & Bizzarro, J.J. 2016. Pseudobatos productus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016. Web. Accessed: 29 May 2017.

[2] Keeley, F. 1999. Marine Life Management Act. AB 1241. California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sacramento, California, United States.

[3] Márquez-Farías, F. 2007. Reproductive biology of shovelnose guitarfish Rhinobatos productus from the eastern GC Mexico. Marine Biology 151: 1445-1454.

[4] Navarro, R., C. Victoria. 2012. Animal Diversity Web: Rhinobatos productus. Web. Accessed: 29 May 2017.

[5] NOAA Fisheries, West Coast Region: About Groundfish Fisheries. Web. Accessed: 29 May 2017.

[6] Timmons, M., R. Bray. 1997. Age, growth, and sexual maturity of shovelnose guitarfish, Rhinobatos productus. Fishery Bulletin, 95: 349-359.

[7] California Department of Fish and Wildlife 2016-2017.  Final California Commercial Landings. Web. Accessed: 29 May 2017.

[8] 2017. Check Your Food: Skate Meuniere with caper butter. Web. Accessed: 29 May 2017.

[9] 2017. Check Your Food: Skate Wing. Web. Accessed: 29 May 2017.

[10] Justia. 2017. 2005 California Fish and Game Code Sections 7090. Web. Accessed: 29 May 2017.

[11] Monterey Bay Aquarium. 2017. Shovelnose guitarfish. Web. Accessed: 29 May 2017.

[12] 2017. Tuna Harbor Dockside Market Species. Web. Accessed: 29 May 2017. 

[13] Guitarfish,Web. Accessed: 21 September 2017.