The Gulf of California endemic reef fish, Acanthemblemaria crockeri (Blennioidei, Chaenopsidae), reportedly has two colour morphs, one with melanic lateral spots (‘Gulf’ morph) and one with orange spots (‘Cape’ morph). In this study, we recorded colour morph in both males and females and collected mitochondrial DNA sequence data for cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) and tRNA-Pro/D-loop of specimens from throughout the Gulf to explore the genetic basis of the colour morphs. Two highly divergent (HKY + I distance = 11.9% for COI), reciprocally monophyletic lineages were identified, consistent with the presence of two parapatric species. A 30-km gap between the distributions of mitochondrial lineages roughly corresponds to a hypothesized former seaway across the Baja California peninsula north of La Paz, although the estimated divergence time (1.84 million years ago) is more recent than the hypothetical seaway (3–4 million years ago). Surprisingly, the distribution of mitochondrial species is not congruent with the distribution of either male or female colour morphs. Our analysis also revealed significant population differentiation within both species and no shared haplotypes among populations. The northern Gulf species includes four populations (NB, CB, NM and CM) corresponding to northern and central Baja and northern and central mainland sites, while the Cape species includes two populations (SB and SM) corresponding to the Baja and mainland sides of the southern Gulf. The NB/CB division corresponds to a hypothesized Plio–Pleistocene mid-peninsular seaway. The level of genetic divergence documented in this lineage is extraordinary for a marine fish with a pelagic larval stage within a semi-enclosed basin.