A diverse and important group of marine ﬁsh, rockﬁsh are members of the Scorpaenidae family, which includes 310 species generically characterized as scorpionﬁsh. Rockﬁsh may be referred to as rock cod, sea bass, snapper, and ocean perch because of their resemblance to these species or to the quality of their ﬁllets, but the latter species are not related to rockﬁsh.
IdentificationAdult rockﬁsh range in size from 5 to 41 inches, but most species grow to between 20 and 24 inches in length. The rockﬁsh is characterized by bony plates or spines on the head and the body, a large mouth, and pelvic ﬁns attached forward near the pectoral ﬁns.
The spines are venomous, and although not extremely toxic, they can still cause pain and infection. Some species are brightly colored. Rockfish appear somewhat perchlike or basslike and are often called sea bass.
FoodAdult rockﬁsh feed on a variety of food items. Adults feed on sand lance, herring, and small rockﬁsh, as well as crustaceans.
Common speciesThe most common species encountered in Alaska include the black (Sebastes melanops), the copper (S. caurinus), the dusky (S. ciliatus), the quillback (S. maliger), and the yelloweye (S. ruberrimus).
Common species in Washington include the black, the copper, the quillback, and the yelloweye.
Common species in Oregon include the black, the blue (S. mystinus), the bocaccio (S. paucispinis), the China (S. nebulosis), the copper, the Paciﬁc ocean perch (S. alutus), and the yelloweye.
Common species in California include the black, the blue, the bocaccio, the canary (S. pinniger), the chilipepper (S. goodei), the copper, the cowcod (S. levis), the greenspotted (S. chlorostictus), the olive (S. serranoides), the starry (S. constellatus), the vermilion (S. miniatus), the widow (S. entomelas), and the yellowtail (S. ﬂavidus).
DistributionThere are roughly 68 species of rockfish in the genus Sebastes and two in the genus Sebastolobus that are found along the coasts of North America. Nearly all occur in Pacific waters.
HabitatRockﬁsh can generally be separated into those that live in the shallower nearshore waters of the continental shelf and those that live in deeper waters on the edge of the continental shelf.
The former comprise species that are always found in rocky bottom areas (called shelf demersal by biologists) and those that spend much of their time up in the water column and off the bottom (shelf pelagic).