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Long-lived species are good to eat, but overfishing is a threat
More than 30 species of rockfish live in Alaska's coastal waters. A dozen or more species range as far north as the Bering Sea.
Rockfish grow to 20 to 24 inches long. They have bony plates or spines on the head and body and a large mouth. The spines are venomous, and although not extremely toxic, can still cause pain and infection. Some species are brightly colored, and many are difficult to distinguish from one another. Rockfishes appear somewhat perch-like or bass-like, and are often called sea bass. All species have flesh that is delicious to eat. The most common species taken include the yelloweye, quillback, copper, dusky, and black.
All rockfish are ovoviviparous, meaning that they give birth to live young after internal fertilization.
Rockfish grow slowly and live a long time. Black rockfish, for example, live to about 40 years. Yelloweye rockfish older than 100 years old have been found. Because rockfish take 10 to 15 years to become reproductively mature, and because many stocks live in the same place all their lives, populations are vulnerable to overfishing.
Rockfish also fall victim to their body's design. Rockfish have a type of swim bladder that uses a gas-producing and absorbing gland to change the volume of gas in the swim bladder, which is used to maintain buoyancy at different depths.
The swim bladder is easily damaged when a fish is subjected to sudden changes in water pressure, such as when it is brought to the surface. The gas gland does not have enough time to absorb the gas in the swim bladder as the gas expands with a decrease in water pressure.
Consequently, the swim bladder gets so large that it is too large for the fish's body cavity and it pushes its way out through the mouth of the rockfish. Countless rockfish are wasted when they are caught incidentally by anglers seeking other fish and are thrown back in the water.
38 pounds, 11 ounces, caught in 2001 in Prince William Sound by Rosemary Roberts.
Rockfish are frequently caught by anglers using herring. They may be found on the bottom or higher in the water.