Bonefish and San Francisco

With global warming a fact of our modern world, it could very well be that bonefish will some day be cast to on the mud flats off Sausalito.  Don’t rush out and haul that flats skiff from the Keys just yet.  I’m sure there is a lot of food fit for a bonefish in the Bay, but the water is, in a word… cold.   Bonefish don’t love cold water (78 is their ideal) and that Bay water is frigid (gets as warm as 73 in spots, but as cold as  46… which is fatal), as is the water along the coast extending down most of the length of California.

I have been bemused to see several sources list the northern range of bones on the West Coast as extending up to SF Bay.  One of these sources is the website of the Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department.  Some months ago I set out to discover the source of this statement of fact.

Turns out there is a bonefish in the CA Academy of Sciences collection that was caught off Sausalito back in about 1914 or so.  How that fish got there, I have no idea.  If you look at catch reports from piers, party boats and other anglers it is very clear that no bonefish are, or have been, taken in the Bay in the 90 or so years since then (or at least no one has talked about it).

There have been whales up the Sacramento River, but I wouldn’t include the Sac in the stated range of those whales.

Basically… I’m calling BS.  Bones do inhabit some of the back bays in San Diego, but not really any further than that.  Californians are just going to have to wait a few hundred or thousand years to find bones in SF Bay… sorry.

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  1. Bonefish native range is as far as SF Bay according to some sources and as far as Punta Arena according to others. They aren’t caught because they are not fished for or found except beyond the breakers.

    The only flats available are in SD Bay. That is why they are catchable there. Sources: CA DFG publications from the 60’s and 70’s and a Google search.

  2. Hey Guy,
    I know that the Bone’s range gets listed as SF, but I don’t believe it. The water beyond the breakers would be too cold, the path to the Bay itself would be too cold. Young fish do go far and wide… in Dick Brown’s book he talks about juvenile bones being found as far north at New England… but those juvenile fish don’t establish colonies.

    I have found catch reports from SoCal that mention bonefish being caught from piers and since bones eat… well… A LOT of different items, I find it hard to swallow that there actually are resident bones in SF Bay, but that they just haven’t been caught. The only specimen I can find record of is that one, lonely fish at the CA Academy of Sciences.

    Now, I’m not a biologist, but I’m guessing that a solitary fish found in a location would not be enough to rewrite the stated range of a species… but I can find no other evidence of bones in the Bay (or really anywhere north of LA… some reports of bones caught off Long Beach, but very, very infrequently).

  3. The SF Bonefish range is also found in the book “Fishes of the Pacific.”

  4. Well, I’m feeling a little vindicated… here is the response I got from the Chair of the Dept. of Ichthyology at the Academy of Sciences…

    We have three documented specimens of bonefish taken north of LA. One SSU 24054 was taken off Sausalito on 18 Dec 1918; another SU 13034 taken in Monterey Bay (no date); and the third SU 35301 taken off Monterey on 25 March 1941. So far as I know, these are as you say “vagrant” individuals, perhaps coming north because of El Nino conditions. There is no resident population in San Francisco Bay. The “normal” range of the species is from the Los Angeles Bight south, with occurrences north episodic.



    Tomio Iwamoto, Ph.D.
    Curator and Chair

    Department of Ichthyology

  5. […] scarce.  Many have heard about bonefish in San Diego Bay even sometimes north of there (although not in San Francisco Bay).  A kids fishing event in Long Beach has, in past years, turned up bonefish.  I’m guessing […]

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