Sturgeon Poacher Agonus acipenserinus
by Scott Boyd
One of the odder looking fish that Pacific Northwest divers will encounter is the Sturgeon Poacher (Agonus acipenserinus), which can grow up to 12 inches in length, they have a slender, tapering body that is covered with scales that are actually modified bony plates. Found from Northern California to the Bering Sea in Alaska, in shallow waters to depths of about 200í, these fish have very small mouths, that are surrounded by clumps of cirri.
These cirri actually contain their taste buds which are used to grovel through the sand and silt bottoms it prefers to inhabit in search of a tasty shrimp or other very small invertebrate. Poachers are very slow moving, and although easily startled, will typically only move off a short distance before settling again to the bottom. This makes them a good subject for macro photography.
These fish are fairly common in Puget Sound, and I see them frequently at Fox Island, Owen Beach and Les Davis. Keep your eyes open in the shallows as you are hanging out on your safety stop and you will often be rewarded with the sight of one of our many poacher species.
The sturgeon poacher has a very rigid and inflexible body that causes it to swim with a sculling motion of its pectoral fins, while dragging its body like a rudder. It is rather ungainly to watch, but they are cute in their own way. It is thought that this fish spawns in the Spring, but other than that, very little is known about this remarkable critter.
There is no commercial or sport fishery for this species as there really isnít enough meat on them to make it worth a fishermanís efforts. That, along with the very small mouth these fish have makes them a very unlikely catch, so most of our local fisherman never even know this fish exists in our lush waters.