Colorful, long-lived rockfish

There are more than 100 species of rockfish around the world, many of which are found along the Pacific coast of North America, and 24 of those make their homes in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Aquarium exhibits about 14 different rockfish species!

Old timers
Rockfish are some of the longest-lived fish on Earth. Some species can live well over 100 years. Extraordinarily, a shortraker rockfish that was over 200 years old was caught in Alaska in 2013—which means that it was born right around the War of 1812! While that kind of lifespan isn’t common, rockfish do tend to live longer than the majority of the world’s fish species, many of which live anywhere from two to 10 years.
The bad news about long lives
Because rockfish are so long-lived, many don’t begin breeding until they’re nearly 20 years old. Add in the fact that rockfish are considered a desirable seafood item, and it’s easy to understand why they’re susceptible to overfishing. In fact, most rockfish are listed as a fish to avoid on the Seafood Watch cards available at the Seattle Aquarium.
Differences and similarities
Rockfish come in a wide variety of colors, patterns, shapes and sizes. But they do share a few key characteristics that identify them as rockfish: large eyes and mouth; a compressed lower body; a jutting lower jaw; and a large dorsal fin with well-developed spines (more on that in our next section).
Watch out for those spines!
Rockfish, like all members of the Scorpaenidae family, have venomous spines on their dorsal fins. Some fish species within this family have spines that are quite toxic. That’s not the case for rockfish, but rockfish venom can cause a good amount of pain and lead to infection—yet another reason to avoid these fish and let them reach the end of their natural lifespans in the wild!
You can help take care of wild rockfish
Rockfish live in a variety of habitats and at a variety of depths. Some species school together; others live solitary lives. But regardless of where and how they live, rockfish need clean water and undisrupted habitats to grow and thrive. You can help them by doing your part to protect Puget Sound and the ocean beyond, and choosing seafood from the “Best Choices” and “Good Alternatives” lists on the Seafood Watch cards at the Seattle Aquarium.


Rockfish range

Quick Facts

Diet: Carnivore
Average lifespan in the wild: 50 years
Size: 6”–3’ long, depending on species
Protection Status: Varies by species; some threatened