Garibaldi – The State Fish Of California

The Garibaldi fish (Hypsypops rubicundus) or “Catalina goldfish” is the official marine state fish of California and has protected status across the Golden State’s coastlines.

But how did it become the state fish, what makes it so unique, and more importantly, what is its association with Italian revolutionaries, currant-laden cookies, and rugby trophies?

What Is A Garibaldi Fish?

Historically, the Garibaldi was known as the Catalina goldfish.

It comes from the damselfish family and has a unique orange color, with juvenile Garibaldi fish displaying a redder tinge.

Many of these fish have iridescent blue spots, but they lose them as they mature.

Garibaldi fish live at depths of around 100 feet and can be found in rocky reefs.

They are native to the northeastern Pacific Ocean and are seen across the California coast.

How Big Is A Garibaldi Fish?

The Garibaldi can grow up to 15 inches in length but many are around 12 inches.

Why Is The Garibaldi The State Fish Of California?

The Garibaldi is a beautiful bright orange fish that is easy to catch.

As a result, it was very popular among hobbyists and during the 1970s, its numbers plummeted.

The California Department of Fish and Game recommended a protection status, but it wasn’t enforced and the numbers continued to drop.

In the 1990s, legislation was pushed through that would protect the Garibaldi, but it took some time before those changes were made.

Eventually, in 1995, a bill was passed to protect the fish from over-harvesting and an amendment to the bill stated that the Garibaldi would become the official state marine fish.

Are Garibaldi Fish Endangered?

The Garibaldi is not endangered, but there are concerns that its numbers might be reducing due to commercial practices.

Why Is The Garibaldi Protected?

The Garibaldi is popular as an aquarium fish due to its bright orange coloration and the fact that it’s relatively easy to catch.

Its protected status prevents people from catching and selling the fish in large numbers, thus reducing its population.

The Garibaldi is one of the most beautiful fish on the California coast and it stands out against the usual greys, browns… and other browns, so it’s important to keep those numbers high for the benefit of our coastlines.

Can The Garibaldi Protect Itself?

The Garibaldi is a very territorial fish.

Male Garibaldis will find a sheltered nest for the female to lay eggs.

They will then guard the nest until those eggs hatch, a process that usually takes around 3 weeks.

During that time, the male Garibaldi will attack all fish that approach, regardless of their size.

Even divers are fair game for the male Garibaldi, and many snorkelers and scuba divers have been chased away by aggressive, biting Garibaldi fish.

State Marine Fish vs Freshwater

You will often see the Garibaldi referenced as the “state marine fish” as opposed to just the “state fish”.

It may seem a little redundant at first glance (after all, there are no land fish) but it’s because CA also has a state freshwater fish, the golden trout.

What Do Garibaldi Fish Eat?

Garibaldi feast on invertebrates that they remove from rocks.

These include shellfish, sea stars, and shrimp.

What Is The Garibaldi Fish Named After?

Garibaldi is an Italian surname and comes from Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian revolutionary who helped to unify Italy and is regarded as one of the greatest generals in the modern era.

Followers of Garibaldi were known as “redshirts”, as they wore distinctive red shirts.

It’s not the only reference that you’ll find to this great general, though.

In the United Kingdom, the word “Garibaldi” conjures images of sweet cookies (“biscuits”) and not fish.

The Garibaldi biscuit/cookie is a sugar-glazed slab packed with currants and traditionally consumed with a cup of tea.

The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy is contested during the annual Six Nations rugby union competition and is given to the winner of the match between France and Italy.

The general also lent his name to a cocktail, a type of bread, and to locations in Australia, Brazil, North America, Mexico, and France.

The city of Nottingham in the United Kingdom also has ties to him.

Not only is there a “Garibaldi School”, but the local soccer club actually based its iconic red and white kit on the general.

In some ways, Garibaldi has had a massive influence on modern culture and his legacy lives on.

But at the same time, we’re talking about one of the greatest-ever generals, and yet he’s best-known for having red-shirted followers and inspiring a state marine fish and a biscuit favored by seniors with bowel problems.

Where Do Garibaldi Fish Live?

Garibaldi fish live in the Pacific Ocean and can be found from Baja California to Monterey Bay.

You will find plenty of them in La Jolla and around the Channel Islands.