Miller and Lea’s Guide to the Coastal Marine Fishes of California Preface and Something of a Candid Admission

It is difficult to remember what California marine fish field biology was like before the 1972 Guide to the Coastal Marine Fishes of California was published. A biologist attempting to determine what fish species was at hand had some resources, however, many were dated, incomplete, or difficult to use. In addition, very few contained keys, that most efficient way of determining the identity of an organism.

Thus, the first edition of Dan Miller and Bob Lea’s field guide was an inspiration to several generations of both working and aspiring California fish biologists. It was the reference turned to when a trawl haul yielded something unexpected. It was the reference kept close to hand by decades of students in ichthyology classes. And it was the reference used in hundreds of research papers by those wanting to establish a certain street cred regarding their knowledge of the basic facts about a fish species. No fish biologist worthy of the name had an unmarked copy. In fact, one might say it was a badge of honor to have the most beaten up, pulped, and horribly defaced copy — by implication the result of endless thumbing by slime-covered fingers.

But science marches on and, inevitably, our copies became crowded with a venation of spider web-like notes — updates necessitated by new records of range, depth, or size or improved ways of identifying a species. And, indeed, there reached a point when “Miller and Lea” became sufficiently dated that it often sat on bookcase shelves rather than out on the deck of a heaving research vessel.

And thus was born the decision to create a new edition, although we are the first to admit that this effort feels to us somewhat like tampering with holy writ. We did not reach this decision quickly or lightly as we wished to produce a work that, while updated of course, kept intact the flavor, intent, and integrity of the original. We apologize in advance if your favorite drawing has been replaced by a newer version and we feel your pain when you search in vain for that page you always liked that illustrated your five favorite jacks. Please know that our goal was not to add discomfiture to your lives, but rather to burnish the luster that is Fish Bulletin Number 157.

A word about this edition’s new title. We made the decision to change the name of this guide to more accurately and permanently reflect the great contributions Dan Miller and Bob Lea made to this field. We believe that over the years the authorship of new editions may change but that the role that Dan Miller and Bob Lea played in creating this most useful field guide will not.

We hope to have the book available for sale in early 2019. Stay tuned. For more information visit

Milton S. Love, UC Santa Barbara

Julianne Kalman Passarelli, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium