Rockfish (Scorpaenidae) are a large family of
long-lived, slow-growing fish with large heads and mouths and prominent
spiny fins that are mildly poisonous. Shallow water species are
generally brown and mottled; deeper water species are generally reddish.
There are over 35 species of rockfish that inhabit waters from Japan to
Alaska to northern Baja California. Adult rockfish are found around
rocky reefs, walls, slopes, or pinnacles. Copper and quillback rockfish
(Sebates caurinus and S. maliger)
are found in shallow waters, and redstripe rockfish (S.
proriger) at varying depths. The smaller Puget Sound
rockfish (S. empaeus) is also found in Whatcom
waters. Once settled in suitable habitat, many species migrate very
little, staying in the same location most of their lives.
This Whatcom County map shows areas where
rockfish have been found. This map is based on data compiled by
Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington
Marine Atlas (1974); Squire and Smith, Anglers’
guide to the United States Pacific Coast (1977); Washington
Department of Fisheries, Technical Report 79
(1992); and Palsson et al., Puget Sound groundfish
management plan (1998). The map was created by People For
Puget Sound. Click on map for larger image.
In the 1970s, sport fishing for bottomfish like
rockfish was encouraged by state fisheries managers in lieu of salmon
fishing and led to severe overfishing and depletion of the rockfish
Rockfish eggs are internally fertilized and their young are born free
swimming. A mature female quillback rockfish gives birth between winter
and spring to over half a million young which float on and feed in
tidal currents, settling in sheltered bays and inlets. Quillback
rockfish live up to 95 years (coppers to 50 years) and become sexually
mature after about six years with reproductive capacity increasing with
age and size.
Rockfish are opportunistic predators feeding on bottom-dwelling crabs,
shrimps, and other fish. As they grow, juveniles move from shallow,
rocky vegetated areas to the deeper rocky habitats used by adults. Some
species like quillback and copper rockfish seldom migrate as adults
and, as a result, are easily located and overfished.
Quillback and copper rockfish, once abundant, were an important
commercial species harvested as “rockcod.” Rockfish
are harvested by native tribes for subsistence and cultural purposes
and a very limited commercial harvest continues in the Strait of
Georgia. A market exists for live rockfish in British Columbia where
they are sold at premium prices to Asian eateries. Rockfish are still
an important sport fishery, caught by pole and line or speared.
Sometimes they are caught inadvertently when salmon fishing.