The tangerine-colored fish named the Garibaldi, an underwater attraction for Orange County's recreational divers, has won the title of California's official marine fish.
Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday signed a bill that grants the Garibaldi its new status, a Wilson spokesman said. The bill also imposes a three-year ban on its commercial collection.
An Anaheim-based divers' group called Ocean Futures had pushed hard for the measure amid reports from veteran divers that the Garibaldi population is declining. The fish's advocates fear it is falling prey to unscrupulous commercial aquarium collectors.
News of the bill's signing was greeted with glee by Jim Hall of Ocean Futures, who worked for three years to win the Garibaldi its new title and protection. A similar bill failed in the Legislature last year, amid opposition from collectors who maintained the fish is not endangered.
Hall said he was unsure if Wilson would sign the measure, even though it passed in the Legislature this summer.
"After a long, tough, dirty battle like this one, you don't take anything for granted," he said.
The Garibaldi, a member of the damsel family, is found from Monterey Bay to Baja California and off the Channel Islands.
It will not displace the golden trout, a freshwater fish that remains the official California state fish.