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More About The Lowly Oregon Coast Rockfish Than You Realize

Published 07/14/21 at 5:55 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

More About The Lowly Oregon Coast Rockfish Than You Realize

(Oregon Coast) – The lowly (but often tasty) rockfish: there's more to these colorful little guys than you may think. Oh, sure, they're a yummy treat when part of the right recipe. However, some species can live as long as 70 years or even 116 years out in the wilds of Oregon coast waters. (Above: China Rockfish. All photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

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They are a staple on the dinner plate around the Pacific Northwest and on fishing expeditions in the region's waters – a favorite pastime on their own. There's some 13 species off the Oregon coast, but two are especially colorful.

Seaside Aquarium has extensive dealings with both the Tiger Rockfish and the China Rockfish, including featuring them quite often.

Both are quite colorful and striking.

The aquarium's Tiffany Boothe is quick to note that about the China Rockfish (Sebastes nebulosus).

“In our humble opinion these are one of the most attractive species of rockfish out there,” she said. “They can vary in color from black or blue-black, mottled with yellow and sometimes white.”

Indeed, her photos of them make them look almost glowing; slightly iridescent. It's as if this kooky little fish was dressed for a rave. They have a dark blue or black body, with splotches of yellow and a wide yellow strip along their sides. Yet in her photos they look like they might do something spectacular visually if you hit them with a black light.

Boothe said they currently have three China Rockfish there, all of which have been at the aquarium for over 20 years.

“Like other species of rockfish, they have a relatively long lifespan, often exceeding the age of 70,” she said.

China Rockfish live at fairly shallow depths, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), generally 10 to 400 feet deep and always around rocky reefs.

“They can be quite territorial and are not much for traveling,” Boothe said. “Usually most active at dusk, they do not travel further than 20 or so feet from their established territory. They prefer complex habitats like boulder fields or kelp beds and are sometimes found living in dens or caves occupied by giant Pacific octopus.”

The Tiger Rockfish (Sebastes nigrocintus) is also quite a splash of color, and these live up to a whopping 116 years old in the natural world.

“They can vary in color having either a grey, pink, rose, or white body with five black or red bars,” Boothe said.

They're also fairly reclusive and territorial, and they get quite aggressive towards their own kind when they intrude. Tiger rockfish tend to stick around their home, normally not venturing far beyond their territory, which is usually along deep vertical rocky areas.

When not getting into fights with their own kind, they're chowing down on small hermit crabs,larger crabs and brittle stars, Boothe said.

Boothe said the aquarium crew had an endearing encounter with some baby Tiger rockfish a few years back when on a call for a stranded mammal on the beach. They noticed a pile of kelp on the sand – which is what baby Tiger rockfish hide in when young. When they moved the pile, a few babies fell out and they were still alive.

“Too little to return to the ocean (as they would simply wash back onto the beach) we brought them back to the aquarium,” she said. “It was about a week before these little beauties were big enough for identification and they were indeed baby tiger rockfish. Our entire staff has fallen in love with them and they are now probably the most loved rockfish in the world.”

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Above: China Rockfish. Below, other examples of Rockfish at the aquarium

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