There are more than 100 different species of rockfish around the world; 68 of those are found along the Pacific coast of North America; 24 of them live in the waters of Puget Sound; and about 14 different species can be seen at the Seattle Aquarium!
All in the Scorpaenidae family
All rockfish species share some physical characteristics—such as jutting lower jaws and large dorsal fins with well-developed spines— but there are significant differences between the species as well. They can be anywhere from six inches to three feet long. They may be red, orange, black or green—and splotched or striped. They’re found at depths ranging from 40 to 2,000 feet. And they may group together in large schools or live solitary lives in their rocky homes.
Compared to most other fish species, which live from two to 10 years, some rockfish species live very long lives—100 years or more! But there’s a downside: many longer-living rockfish don’t begin breeding until they’re nearly 20 years old. Because they’re susceptible to overfishing, that means that some rockfish don’t have a chance to reproduce before they’re caught and put on a dinner plate. That’s why most rockfish are listed as a species to avoid in sustainable seafood consumer guides.
Rockfish at the Seattle Aquarium
The rockfish pictured in our matching game below were collected by Aquarium staff last summer at Neah Bay on Washington’s outer coast. Regardless of where we collect rockfish, though, we focus on younger fish. Why? Choosing young fish gives you a chance to watch them grow through each of their different life stages. More importantly, some rockfish populations are threatened— and by leaving older, larger rockfish in the wild to reproduce, we limit our impact on their populations.
Research to understand rockfish population sustainability
Rockfish are listed as species of concern in Washington state, and some are listed as threatened (yelloweye) and endangered (bocaccio) under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Understanding long-term population stability and young-of-year (YOY) recruitment events is important to the effective management of these species. With support from members and donors like you, the Seattle Aquarium has been documenting rockfish at five different research stations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, just southeast of Neah Bay, since 2004. Since 2009, we’ve expanded the number of survey sites to include nine in Puget Sound, for a total of 14 sites that we survey semiannually to quarterly to gain insight into both seasonal and annual differences in rockfish numbers, and to document significant YOY recruitment events.