by Lauren M.
A frequently asked question when people see rockfish for the first time. These bony fish are typically seen floating or swimming in locations such as reefs and rocky areas, where they are in fact (at least most of the time!) not dead. They spend their time in various depths of water, mostly depending on the age of the rockfish. Juveniles for the most part stay in more shallow waters, while a majority of the adults prefer deeper coastal waters from Baja California to the Gulf of Alaska, with about 24 total species of rockfish in the Pacific Northwest.
Rockfish are venomous. The spines in the fins on their backs contain a poison that although in most cases not fatal can still cause quite a sting. There are many similarities between the various rockfish species, but the bocaccio rockfish is unique in that it produces more eggs than other rockfish, bearing from 20,000 to more than 2 million eggs, that eventually are born as live larvae.
The bocaccio was originally designated at risk because of overfishing, with a high percentage being caught as bycatch. They were also seen as an alternative to salmon in the early 1990s, leading to larger consumption as food, officially declared overfished in 1996, and listed as endangered in Puget Sound in 2009.
Rockfish can live longer than most fish, some of the oldest living to more than one hundred years of age. Because of this they mature and reproduce more slowly as well. Some species have to be as old as twenty before they can produce young. This is another part of why many species are threatened. Many are caught before maturity, meaning that they are caught before they have had the chance to reproduce. Measures have been taken to place bans on trawling and fish farming around areas with prominent populations of rockfish.
Today, populations of bocaccio rockfish are increasing but progress is slow. Some scientists believe that it will take at least twenty years for the species to recover a significant amount, but currently, precautions and plans are being created and enforced to not only protect bocanccio rockfish, but all other types of this unique species. To contribute, pick up a seafood watch card at the Seattle Aquarium for information on whether or not a particular species of fish is okay to eat.