A member of the Labridae family of wrasses, the California sheephead is a strong bottom-dwelling fish that is a favorite of spearfishing divers. It has some commercial value, although declining numbers caused it to be supplanted commercially by rockfish. Its flesh is white, firm, and mild, and it is preferred in chowder and in salads.
Other Namessheepie, goat, billygoat (large), red fish, humpy, fathead; Spanish: vieja de California.
IdentificationThe body of the California sheephead is elongate, robust, and compressed. This species is a hermaphrodite: It begins life as a female and becomes a male later in life. Females mature at about 8 inches in length and 4 to 5 years of age.
Most females transform to males at a length of about 12 inches, or 7 to 8 years of age. This sex change is accompanied by a marked change in appearance. Younger fish (females) are a uniform pinkish-red with white lower jaws.
As they age and become males, their heads and the rear thirds of their bodies turn black, the midsections of their bodies remain red, and their lower jaws remain white. In all stages of their development, sheephead have unusually large doglike teeth.