Yellowtail Rockfish

Yellowtail Rockfish, Sebastes flavidus

The Yellowtail Rockfish, Sebastes flavidus, whose common Spanish name is rocote cola amarilla, 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.

Rockfish have narrow bodies with a depth that is 31 to 35% of standard length. They have reduced head spines compared to other Rockfish. They have a dark brown to greenish brown coloration on their back above the lateral line and are brown and tan with yellow tinges below the lateral line. Some fish are melatin – very dark. Their scales are flecked with orange-brown to brown above the lateral line and are brown or tan flecked with yellow below the lateral line. Their head has yellow or green striping that is more prominent below the eyes. They have a series of white or pale blotches just below their dorsal fins. All their fins are yellow or orange. Fish taken from deeper waters have a darker coloration, however these bright colors and blotches fade immediately upon collection. Their head is relatively short with a small terminal mouth and large eyes. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 7 to 9 rays; their caudal fin is slightly indented; their dorsal fin has 12 or 13 spines and 13 to 16 rays; their pectoral fins have 17 to 19 rays. They have 31 to 39 gill rakers. Their body is covered with scales.

The Yellowtail Rockfish are a schooling species found between mid-water and resting on the bottom or in crevices over high relief such as boulders and rock walls at depths between the surface and 1,800 feet. They are found in large schools mixed with Canary and Vermilion Rockfish. They reach a maximum length of 66 cm (26 inches), with females being larger than males. Reproduction is oviparous with each female releasing between 57,000 and 2.0 million pelagic eggs annually. They have a lifespan of up to sixty-four years.

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

The Yellowtail Rockfish is easily confused with the Olive Rockfish, Sebastes serranoides (drab coloration with dark green-brown back; lighter green-brown sides; greenish or light blotches on back; greenish-yellow fins; lacks flecking coloration on scales; lacks facial striping).

The Yellowtail Rockfish are a strong component of the commercial fishery in the Pacific Northwest taken predominately in mid-water by bottom trawls. They are a minor component of the recreational catch. Overall populations of the Yellowtail Rockfish have seen a significant decline of approximately 50% in the last fifty years.

Yellowtail Rockfish (1)

Yellowtail Rockfish, Sebastes flavidus. Both fish caught from coastal waters off Sitka, Alaska, August 2014. Catches, photos and identifications courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur.  Identifications reconfirmed by Milton Love, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA.