Sunset Rockfish

Sunset Rockfish, Sebastes crocotulus

The Sunset Rockfish, Sebastes crocotulus, whose common Spanish name is rocote crepúsculo, 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 Sunset Rockfish was very recently determined to be a separate species having historically been known as the Vermilion Rockfish, Type II.

The Sunset Rockfish have squat blocky bodies with a depth that is 35 to 39% of standard length. They have a yellowish-orange coloration with mottling on their upper back; their fins are normally darker and red in color. Their head is of medium length with relatively small eyes and a small terminal mouth. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 6 to 8 rays; their caudal fin is slightly lunate; their dorsal fin has 13 spines and 12 to 15 rays; and their pectoral fins have 17 to 19 rays. They have 33 to 43 gill rakers and their body is covered with scales.

The Sunset Rockfish are a schooling species found from mid-water to the bottom over rock substrates at depths up between 330 and 2,750 feet. They reach a maximum length of 76 cm (30 inches), with females being larger than males. They are known to school with Bocaccios and with Blue, Brown, Canary, Copper, and Yellowtail Rockfish. They feed on fish and a variety of invertebrates including crabs, shrimp, and squid. Reproduction is oviparous with each female releasing between 63,000 and 2.6 million pelagic eggs. They have a lifespan of up to sixty years. Very little is known about the behavioral patterns of this species especially how it differs from the Vermilion Rockfish, Sebastes miniatus.

In Mexican waters the Sunset Rockfish have a limited distribution being found from San Quintin northward along the northwest coast of Baja.

The Sunset Rockfish is easily confused with the Canary Rockfish, Sebastes pinniger (lateral line reaching into the head; white edged anal fin) and the Vermilion Rockfish, Sebastes miniatus (larger eyes; wider caudal peduncle; uniform red body coloration).

The Sunset Rockfish has only recently been separated from the Vermillion Rockfish as an individual species. As such the catch levels and interest in this species from both a commercial and recreational perspective are not well documented. Commercially they are caught with trawl nets or by hook and line. It is believed that since the Sunset Rockfish are found at significantly deeper depths, they are not caught as frequently as the Vermilion Rockfish, which is the third most frequently caught recreational fish in California. They are deemed an exceptional food fish, commanding high prices, and are a component of the live fishery.

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

Sunset Rockfish (2)

Sunset Rockfish, Sebastes crocotulus. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater San Diego area, San Diego, California, October 2014. Length: 34 cm (13 inches). Identification courtesy of Milton Love, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA and reconfirmed by Dr. John Hyde, NOAA, La Jolla, CA.