Black Rockfish

Black Rockfish, Sebastes melanops

The Black Rockfish, Sebastes melanops, whose common Spanish name is rocote negro, 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 Black Rockfish have streamlined bodies that taper toward both ends; their body depth is 28 to 32% of standard length and reaches maximum depth under the dorsal fins. They are bluish-black with dark specks, a white belly, and white to gray blotches between their dorsal fin and their lateral line. They have a disproportionately large sloping head, large eyes, and a large terminal mouth. Their lateral line is often uneven and has a thick white or gray stripe. They do not have the symphyseal knob that is present in several other Rockfish. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 7 to 10 rays; their caudal fin is slightly lunate; and their dorsal fin has 13 or 14 spines and 13 to 16 rays. They have 32 to 40 gill rakers. Their body is covered with scales.

The Black Rockfish are a mobile, often schooling, species found in all portions of the water column at depths between the surface and 1,200 feet. Juveniles are found in-shore near rocky areas. Adults are found over high-relief rocky outcroppings. They reach a maximum length of 69 cm (27 inches) and up to 5 kg (11 pounds) in weight. They are normally found mixed in with Blue Rockfish. They are opportunistic predators that feed on small fish and zooplankton. Reproduction is oviparous with each female releasing between 125,000 and 1,200,000 pelagic eggs. They have a lifespan of up to fifty years.

In Mexican waters the Black Rockfish have a very limited distribution being found on rare occasions from Ensenada northward along the extreme northwest coast of Baja.

The Black Rockfish is similar to a series of other Rockfish including the two species of Blue Rockfish (Blue-Blotched and Blue-Sided), Sebastes mystinus (bluish color; short mouth; no dorsal blotches), the Dark Rockfish, Sebastes ciliatus (uniform bluish-black to gray color; prominent symphyseal knob), and the Dusky Rockfish, Sebastes variabilis (greenish-brown color; no speckles or blotches; prominent symphyseal knob).

The Black Rockfish have historically been an important commercial catch in the Pacific Northwest with fish caught primarily by hook and line. They are not accessible via trawls due to their habitat. They are also an important recreational catch in the coastal waters of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. They are a strong component of the live fishery being sold in west coast Asian markets. Overall their populations are poorly documented but are thought to be in general decline, thus catch restrictions have recently started to be implemented.

Black Rockfish, Sebastes melanops. Fish caught from coastal waters off Sitka, Alaska, September 2015. Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur. Fish identification reconfirmed by Milton Love, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA.


Black RockfishSebastes melanops. Fish caught from coastal waters off Santa Cruz, California, July 2016. Length: 33 cm (13 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Andrew Hansen, Santa Cruz, CA.