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Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi)

Status | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution | Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview | Taxonomy | Key Documents | More Info


ESA Endangered - throughout its range
CITES Appendix I - throughout its range

Species Description

220 pounds (100 kg)
6.5 feet (2 m)
largest fish within the drum family Sciaenidae
25 years
adults: large crabs and sardines
juveniles: small fish, amphipods, shrimp, and small crabs
schools of totoaba migrate northward in the winter along the Gulf of California to the Colorado River delta to spawn in the spring
The totoaba is a large marine fish and is the largest species within its family Sciaenidae. They have been measured at over 6.5 feet (2 m) and can weigh over 220 pounds (100 kg). Adults mainly feed on large crabs and sardines, and juveniles feed on small fish and small benthic organisms, such as amphipods, shrimp, and crabs.

Schools of adult totoaba migrate northward in the winter along the east coast of the Gulf of California to the Colorado River delta and remain there for weeks before spawning in the spring. Adults then migrate back south along the west coast for the rest of the year. Juveniles remain in the upper Gulf of California for two years before beginning this migration pattern. They begin reproducing after another 4 years for females and 5 years for males. It is believed that they can live up to 25 years (Cisneros-Mata et al., 1994).


They inhabit mainly the upper half of the Gulf and the first 75 feet (23 m) of the water column. The Colorado River delta is the totoaba's spawning and nursery area; it provides the warm, low salinity necessary for spawning that is not found elsewhere in the Gulf. Water temperatures in this area during the spawning season range from 14°C-26°C (57°F-79°F) (Cisneros-Mata et al., 1994).


The totoaba is one of many "endemic" species found only in the Gulf of California, Mexico.

Population Trends

No survey of the totoaba population has been conducted since the fishery was banned in 1975. Before 1975, abundance was measured in terms of annual catch. See Threats below.



Conservation Efforts

Attempting to protect totoaba during their period of reproduction, Mexico instituted a closed season beginning in 1940 on the totoaba fishery between March 20 and May 1. Despite this effort, the totoaba population continued to decline, which lead to the complete closure of the fishery in 1975 and the designation of a reserve zone at the mouth of the Colorado River. However, poaching and incidental taking of the totoaba were still widespread. Thus, in 1993, the Mexican government decided to expand the reserve zone and improve enforcement to ensure the protection of both the totoaba and vaquita, an endangered marine mammal endemic to the same area.

The totoaba was listed in 1976 on Appendix I of the International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) This link is an external site., prohibiting the importation of the species into the United States, except for the purpose of scientific research. It was also listed in 1986 as endangered on the IUCN Red List This link is an external site..

Regulatory Overview

The totoaba was listed as endangered in 1979 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Sciaenidae
Genus: Totoaba
Species: macdonaldi

Key Documents

(All documents are in PDF format.)

Title Federal Register Date
ESA Listing Rule 44 FR 29480 05/21/1979


More Information

Updated: January 15, 2015