Gopher Rockfish

Gopher Rockfish, Sebastes carnatus

The Gopher Rockfish, Sebastes carnatus, whose common Spanish name is rocote amarillo, is a species in the Rockfishes and Scorpionfishes or Scorpaenidae Family, known collectively as escorpiónes or lapóns in Mexico. Globally, there are one hundred twenty-four species in the genus Sebastes, forty-nine of which are found in Mexican waters, all in the Pacific.

The Gopher Rockfish have heavy compact fusiform bodies with a depth that is 34 to 38% of standard length. They are covered with spines. They have an overall dark brown, black, and greenish coloration that fades to reddish brown ventrally. They have a series of light patches on their back extending onto their dorsal fin and irregular light areas on their sides. They have a dark stripe radiating backwards from their eyes and another dark stripe on their upper jaw. Their head is mid-length with a short snout, large elevated eyes, and a small terminal mouth. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 5 to 7 rays; their caudal fin is straight; their dorsal fin has 13 spines and 12 to 14 rays; their pectoral fins have 16 to 18 rays; and they have 23 to 32 gill rakers. Their body is covered with scales.

The Gopher Rockfish are bottom dwellers found as solitary and highly territorial individuals near shelter over rock structures or within kelp forests at depths between 40 and 165 feet. They are normally found mixed in with Blue, Kelp, and Olive Rockfish, and with Treefish. They reach a maximum length of 40 cm (16 inches). They feed at night on benthic crabs, shrimp, and small fish. Reproduction is oviparous with each female releasing between 175,000 and 425,000 pelagic eggs. They have a lifespan of up to 30 years, however, very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the Gopher Rockfish have a limited distribution being found from Guerrero Negro northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.

The Gopher Rockfish is easily confused with the Black-and-yellow Rockfish, Sebastes chrysomelas (darker coloration), the Calico Rockfish, Sebastes dallii (slanting red-brown bands from dorsal fin to belly), the Copper Rockfish, Sebastes caurinus (sharper snout; wide clear band along lateral line from mid-body to caudal fin), and the Quillback Rockfish, Sebastes maliger (sharp dorsal spines; lacks dark blotches).

The Gopher Rockfish are a strong component of the commercial fishery and are part of the live fishery sold to Asian markets in Southern California. They are also caught with some regularity by recreational fishermen and by spearfishermen. They are considered an excellent food fish.

Gopher Rockfish, Sebastes carnatus. Fish caught from coastal waters off San Quintin, Baja California, August 2014. Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.

f316-gopher-rockfish-2Gopher Rockfish, Sebastes carnatus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Santa Cruz, California, September 2016. Length: 30 cm (12 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Andrew Hansen, Santa Cruz, CA.