Surfperch are rare among marine fish for being viviparous, or producing live offspring. Unlike most other fish, female surfperch do not scatter eggs outside their bodies but nourish young fish internally and then spawn them live into the surf. Their maximum size ranges from 4 to 18 inches.

They have compressed bodies, more or less oval in shape and generally silvery, and large fleshy lips. The spiny and softrayed dorsal fins are joined. They primarily consume small crustaceans, but some also feed on worms, small crabs, shrimp, and mussels.

The shiner surfperch (Cymatogaster aggregata) is probably the number one fish caught by youngsters along the California coast. Shiner surfperch range from Baja California, Mexico, to Wrangell, Alaska, and are most abundant around bays and eelgrass beds and the pilings of wharves and piers. They grow to a maximum of 8 inches and are generally greenish or silvery.

The barred surfperch (Amphistichus argenteus)grows to a maximum of 17 inches and 4.5 pounds, although it is usually much smaller. It occurs along sandy coasts from central California to Baja California. Its sides are marked with a series of dusky, brassy vertical bars with spots between them. The back and the sides are gray to olive. This is among the most popular surfperch with anglers.

The largest member of the surfperch family is the rubberlip surfperch (Rhacocilus toxotes), which reaches 18 inches. Occurring from central to southern California, it is distinguished by thick white to pinkish lips. The whitish background color is usually tinged with a smoky or blackish color, and the pectoral fins are yellow.


Other common species include the redtail surfperch (A. rhodoterus); the calico surfperch (A. koeizi); the walleye surfperch (Hyperprosopon argenteum); the spotfin surfperch (H. anale); the silver surfperch (H. ellipticum); the rainbow surfperch (Hypsurus caryi); the white surfperch (Phanerodon furcatus); the pile surfperch (R. vacca); the black surfperch (Embiotoca jacksoni); and the striped surfperch (E. lateralis).

Other Names

Seaperch, surffish.


This group of 21 members of the Embiotocidae family is abundant along the eastern Pacific. Two members of this family occur off Japan and Korea, and the remainder occur along the Pacific coast of North America from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico.

All are marine, with the exception of the small tule perch (Hysterocarpus traski), which is found in California’s Sacramento and Russian Rivers.


Most species inhabit the surf along both sandy and rocky coasts, but several species live mainly in bays or in similar shallow inshore waters. One species occurs in relatively deep water (to more than 700 feet), and two smaller species inhabit only tidal pools.