Treefish, Sebastes serriceps

The Treefish, Sebastes serriceps, whose common Spanish name is rocote presidiario, is a species in the Rockfish and Scorpionfish or Scorpaenidae Family, known collectively as escorpiones, lapons or rocotes in Mexico. This fish also has the interesting common name of Tijuana Donkey, as its coloration is similar to the donkeys utilized for photo ops by Gringos in the streets of Tijuana. Globally, there are 124 species in the genus Sebastes, of which 49 are found in Mexican waters, all in the Pacific.

The Treefish have squat rectangular bodies with a depth that is 36% to 40% of standard length. Adults have six wide prominent black, brown or dark green bars set on a yellow or greenish-yellow background; the first bar is located under the anterior portion of the spiny dorsal fin and is partly split in two. They have two oblique bars radiating from their eyes and are covered with small subtle specks. They have red or pinkish lips. Juveniles have double bars that fill in with maturity, an additional bar on their caudal fin, and dark anal, second dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins. Their head is covered with numerous spines and has a pointed snout, small eyes, and a mid-sized terminal mouth. Their anal fin has three spines and five to seven rays; their caudal fin is slightly rounded; their dorsal fin has 13 spines and 13 to 15 rays; and their pectoral fins have 17 to 19 rays. They have 27 to 30 gill rakers.

The Treefish are found in complex benthic habitats including kelp forests, rock structures, and in and around oil platforms at depths up to 350 feet. They reach a maximum length of 41 cm (16 inches) and weight of 1.9 kg (4.2 pounds). They are normally highly territorial solitary individuals but can be found in small aggregates on rare occasions. Their diet is primarily fish supplemented with crabs, shrimp, and other crustaceans. Reproduction is oviparous with each female releasing between 50,000 and 100,000 pelagic eggs annually. They have a lifespan of up to 25 years, however, very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

The Treefish have a limited distribution in Mexican waters and are found from Guerrero Negro northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.

The Treefish is most likely confused with the Tiger Rockfish, Sebastes nigrocinctus (orange, pink or tan background between bars).

The Treefish are not currently an important food fish. They are sold as a live fishery component and can be found in ethnic fish markets of Northern Baja. They are caught with good frequency by recreational anglers from boats, piers, and jetties.

Treefish, Sebastes serriceps. Fish caught from coastal waters off San Nicolas Island, California, April 2016. Length: 33 cm (13 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Eli (