Kelp Bass, Paralabrax clathratus
The Kelp Bass, Paralabrax clathratus, whose common Spanish name is cabrilla sargacera and whose local name is cabrilla and/or verdio, is a species in the family Serranidae, the Sea Basses, known as serranos in Mexico. Globally, there are only nine species in the genus Paralabrax, of which five are found in Mexican waters, all in the Pacific.
The Kelp Bass is very similar to the freshwater Largemouth Bass, Micropterus salmoides. Their upper head is olive green with random yellow spots and their upper back is mottled with white, olive-green, and black markings. There are two rows of rectangular white blotches in a net pattern along their back. A key to identification are the third and fourth dorsal spines, which are of equal length and approximately twice the length of the second spine.
The Kelp Basses are found within and near kelp beds at depths up to 130 feet. They reach a maximum length of 72 cm (28 inches) and weigh up to 6 kg (14 pounds). They feed on crustaceans and small fish. They do not undergo a mid-life sex change, however, the males are sexually dichromatic during spawning season (June to September), as evidenced by a significant change in facial coloration (photo below). They are found from the United States border to just north of Cabo San Lucas on the west coast of Baja, with the southern range established by a fish in our possession.
The Kelp Bass can be confused with the Barred Sand Bass, Paralabrax nebulifer (dark blotches on upper two-thirds of body and tail base; third dorsal spine two and a half times longer than second spine); the Goldspotted Sand Bass, Paralabrax auroguttatus ((dense orange spots covering head, body, and fins; third dorsal spine three times longer than second spine); the Parrot Sand Bass, Paralabrax loro (orange spots and lines covering head; seven dark bars on the sides; third dorsal spine three times longer than second spine); and the Spotted Sand Bass, Paralabrax maculatofasciatus (numerous black, brown, and orange spots covering body; dark bar from eye to gill cover; third dorsal spine three times longer than second spine).
The Kelp Bass is considered to be an excellent food fish and an important game fish with annual catch levels in excess of 500,000 by California party boats.