Vermilion Rockfish

Vermilion Rockfish, Sebastes miniatus

The Vermilion Rockfish, Sebastes miniatus, whose common Spanish name is rocote bermejo, is a species in the Rockfish and Scorpionfish or Scorpaenidae Family, known collectively as escorpiónes, lapons or rocotes 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 Vermilion Rockfish was very recently determined to be a separate species having historically been known as the Vermilion Rockfish, Type I with the Vermilion Rockfish, Type II, being introduced very recently as the Sunset Rockfish, Sebastes crocotulus.

The Vermilion Rockfish have squat blocky bodies with a depth that is 35 to 39% of standard length. They are a red fish with mottling on their upper back; their fins are a uniform red 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; their pectoral fins have 17 to 19 rays; and they have 33 to 43 gill rakers. Their body is covered with scales.

The Vermilion Rockfish are a schooling species found from mid-water to the bottom over rock substrates at depths between 20 and 330 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 Sunset Rockfish, Sebastes crocotulus.

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

The Vermilion Rockfish is easily confused with the Canary Rockfish, Sebastes pinniger (lateral line reaching into the head; white edged anal fin) and the Sunset Rockfish, Sebastes crocotulus (smaller eyes; narrower caudal peduncle; yellow-orange body coloration).

The Vermilion Rockfish has only recently been separated from the Sunset 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 Vermilion Rockfish  are found at reasonable depths, they are caught much more frequently than the Sunset Rockfish, found in deeper waters. They are 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.

Vermilion Rockfish, Sebastes miniatus. Commercial fish courtesy of the Ranch 99 Market, San Diego,  California, October 2009. Length: 38 cm (15 inches).

Vermillion Rockfish (2)

Vermilion Rockfish, Sebastes miniatus. 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.

Vermilion Rockfish, Sebastes miniatus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Ejido Eréndira, Baja California, February 2015. Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.