Black-and-yellow Rockfish

Black-and-yellow Rockfish, Sebastes chrysomelas

The Black-and-yellow Rockfish, Sebastes chrysomelas, whose common Spanish name is rocote mulato, is a member of the 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 Black-and-yellow Rockfish have squat, heavy, compact, and fusiform bodies with a depth that is 34 to 38% of standard length. They are covered with spines. Adults are dark in color with yellowish markings on their back extending into the dorsal fin, along the sides including the posterior part of the lateral line, and on the anterior part of the lower jaw. Juveniles have gold or brown vertical bars over a clear, white or pale gold background and are very difficult to distinguish from other look-alike juvenile rockfish. Their head is mid-length with a short snout, large elevated eyes, and a small terminal mouth. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 6 or 7 rays; their caudal fin is rounded; their dorsal fin has 13 spines and 12 to 14 rays; and their pectoral fins have 17 or 18 rays. They have 26 to 30 gill rakers and their body is covered with scales.

The Black-and-yellow Rockfish are bottom dwellers found as solitary and highly territorial individuals near shelter over rock structures or within kelp forests at depths up to 120 feet. They reach a maximum length of 39 cm (15 inches). They are normally found mixed in with Blue, Gopher, Kelp, and Olive Rockfish. 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 Black-and-yellow Rockfish have a very limited distribution being found from Guerrero Negro northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.

The Black-and-yellow Rockfish is easily confused with the China Rockfish, Sebastes nebulosus (distinctive wide yellow stripe from front of spiny dorsal to caudal fin base) and the Gopher Rockfish, Sebastes carnatus (lighter colored in pink, flesh, or white).

The Black-and-yellow Rockfish are considered an excellent food fish and have historically been an important commercial fish along the central and northwest coasts of North America commanding fairly high prices. They are currently an important component of the live fishery in central and northern California. They are caught fairly frequently by recreational anglers from shore, small boats, and cattle boats.

f680-black-and-yellow-rockfish-1Black-and-yellow Rockfish, Sebastes chrysomelas. Fish caught from coastal waters off Santa Cruz, California, May 2016. Length: 30 cm (12 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Andrew Hansen, Santa Cruz, CA.