Population trends of beach-spawning California grunion Leuresthes tenuis monitored by citizen scientists
California Grunion Leuresthes tenuis (Atherinopsidae), an indigenous endemic marine fish, makes spectacular midnight spawning runs onto sandy beaches on the Pacific coast of California and Baja California. In a unique recreational fishery, people capture the fish out of water with bare hands. Grunion hunters are not required to report their catch, and there is no bag limit. California Grunion rarely appear in trawls and do not take a hook, so population status for this species is impossible to obtain by traditional fishery methods. With citizen scientists, the “Grunion Greeters,” we monitored spawning runs along most of their habitat range. California Grunion recently underwent a northward range extension, but runs appear to be declining broadly across the core habitat. Noisy activities of recreational grunion hunters on shore disrupt spawning runs, preventing fish from reproducing before capture. Leuresthes tenuis has been identified as a Key Indicator Species for the South and Central regions of California Marine Protected Areas, and as an indicator species for climate change on beaches. Gear restrictions, license requirements, and a two-month closed season are rarely enforced late at night. We recommend continued monitoring for L. tenuis in California and increased protections for this unique charismatic fish.