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California Barracuda (Sphyraena argentea)
Written by: Dr. Larry G. Allen
It's been a great year for barracuda, so far. Actually, it is shaping up to be a great year for catching just about everything, including barracuda. I know some of you "purists" out there don't want to be bothered by the "slimers", but they are fun to catch - especially on iron. Barries have also been one of the main stays of the local sport fishing fleet for decades. But remember, the minimum size limit is 28 inches total length. Any shorts must be handled very carefully - no gaffing or bouncing on the deck. The best way to handle them is to 1) hold them outboard of the rail. 2) grab them behind the head with wet hands (or a wet, not damp, towel), 3) remove the hook carefully with needle-nose pliers (no violent shaking, please), and 4) release the fish preferably headfirst back into the water. If we kill them as shorts, where are the legals ever going to come from? Here is a brief summary of what we know about these toothy critters.
SCIENTIFIC NAME - Shyraena argentea , family Sphyraenidae (barracudas)
COMMON NAMES - Pacific barracuda, 'cuda, barries, slimers, picuda (Mexico)
DISTRIBUTION - Kodiak Island, Alaska to southern Baja California though most common from Pt. Conception south to about Punta Eugenia in most years. In El Nino years, they can be found in numbers off central California. Barracuda are pelagic fish which occur nearshore typically around kelp beds and reefs. Barracuda normally inhabit surface waters, but can occur as deep as 120 feet. Barracuda migrate northward from Baja California into southern California in the late spring and early summer, most likely in response to increasing sea surface temperatures.
SIZE & AGE - To 48 inches and about 17 pounds. The oldest known California barracuda was 11 years old and 41 inches long. Barracuda grow very fast in early life reaching a length of 14 inches at one year. At the legal catch size, most barries are 4 or 5 years old. Females grow a bit faster and apparently live longer than males with most fish over 10 pounds being females.
DIET - As is typical with most pelagic predators, barracuda feed mainly on anchovies, sardines, small mackerels, and squids.
REPRODUCTION - Most spawning appears to occurs off of central Baja from April through November peaking from May to July. In some years spawning may occur in southern California waters. Males mature at two years and all females are mature by three years. A female 6-7 years old are reported to produce 300,000 to 400,000 eggs per season. Barracuda are pelagic spawners producing planktonic eggs and larvae which typically occur within 30 miles of the coast.
FISHERY - Barracuda remain a very popular sport fish being taken primarily from party and private fishing vessels. Over the last 30 years or so most of the recreational catch in southern California waters has occurred during the spring and summer peaking in June and July. During the El Nino of 1984-85, barracuda were even taken as far north as Del Norte County in northern California.