Swordspine Rockfish

Swordspine Rockfish, Sebastes ensifer

The Swordspine Rockfish, Sebastes ensifer, whose common Spanish name is rocote espada, 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 Swordspine Rockfish have slender bodies with a width that is 26 to 30% of standard length. They are covered with spines and vary in color from bronze to orange, pink, or red. They have three to five pale spots on their upper back. They have a long head with a medium length snout, disproportionately large eyes, and a fairly large terminal mouth. Their anal fin has 3 spines, the second being thick and exceeding long for which they are named, and 5 to 7 rays; their caudal fin is straight to lightly lunate; their dorsal fin has 13 spines and 12 to 14 rays; their pectoral fins have 16 to 18 rays; and they have 34 to 40 gill rakers. Their body is covered with scales.

The Swordspine Rockfish are bottom dwellers that are found as individuals or in small schools and normally within rocky structures at depths between 145 and 1,420 feet. They are found mixed in with Greenstriped, Halfbanded, Pinkrose, Pygmy, and Speckled Rockfish. They reach a maximum length of 31 cm (12 inches), with females being larger than males. They feed on zooplankton including amphipods, copepods, crustacean larva, and krill. Reproduction is oviparous with each female releasing between 17,000 and 38,000 pelagic eggs. They have a lifespan of up to forty-three years, however, very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

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

The Swordspine Rockfish is easily confused with the Pinkrose Rockfish, Sebastes simulator and the Rosy Rockfish, Sebastes rosaceus, both of which lack a second anal spine that is longer than the first anal ray.

The Swordspine Rockfish are a small component of the commercial fishery being sold in Asian markets in Southern California. They are caught with some regularity by recreational fishermen but are typically discarded due to their small stature.

Swordspine Rockfish (1)

Swordspine Rockfish (2)

Swordspine Rockfish, Sebastes ensifer. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater San Diego area, San Diego, California, October 2014. Length: 19 cm (7.5 inches). Identification courtesy of Milton Love, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA.