• Eric Magrane and Maria Johnson

Bycatch: Sonora Scorpionfish

The Sonora Scorpionfish (Scorpaena sonorae) is a species that is taken as bycatch in the shrimp trawler industry in the Gulf of California. Bycatch is a term that refers to all species caught that are not the target

species, so in this case, everything that is not shrimp. 85 to 90% by weight of catch in the trawling industry in the Gulf is bycatch. This poem and drawing are part of a co-produced research project that we are undertaking with the Next Generation of Sonoran Desert Researchers 6&6 art-science endeavor. The project has brought us out on trawlers overnight in the Gulf. We thank the field station at Prescott College’s Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies in Bahía de Kino, Sonora, Mexico.

The Sonora Scorpionfish is in the family Scorpaenidae. A small benthic fish (living on the floor), no larger than eighteen centimeters (~7 inches), it is known especially for its venomous spines. Trawler fishermen have reported their arms going numb for a day after being inadvertently jabbed by the fish’s spines. In the drawings that accompany this poem, one fish has spines partially raised, while the other has them completely raised. This is a defensive mechanism in response to being caught indiscriminately in the net.

Sonora Scorpionfish (by Eric Magrane)

at night you wait

like a rock

ocean floor


your counter-shading

under white



then brisk ambush

but trawl nets

aren’t fooled

by camouflage

or dissuaded

by venom

what are the chances

from thousands of eggs

one will grow to display

your red pectoral fin

will be dragged up

from the depths

dropped onto the boat deck

where we sort shrimp

what are the chances

a human will be drawn

to your sharp appearance

pick you up

by instinct or chance

and the next day

their arm will go numb

all numb,

is that slight


Eric Magrane is the coeditor, with Christopher Cokinos, of The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide (University of Arizona Press, 2016). He is currently completing a PhD in geography at the University of Arizona. His website is ericmagrane.com.

Maria Johnson is an illustrator and marine conservationist. For several years she has worked on a shrimp trawler bycatch study in the Gulf of California with Prescott College's Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies. Her website is mariareneej.wix.com/artwork.

#GulfofCalifornia #scorpionfish #bycatch

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