Rockfish are magnificent. It says so right in their scientific name. The genus name for rockfish – Sebastes – comes from Sebastos, which is Greek for “magnificent”. But what, exactly, makes this group of fish so magnificent?

Rockfish live a long, long time

Scientists found a rougheye rockfish that was over 200 years old. That rockfish is one of the oldest fish ever found. Rougheye rockfish are sometimes called red snapper on restaurant menus, so you could be eating a piece of history without even knowing it. Imagine: the fish on your plate could have been swimming around before trains were invented and Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, was born!

There are many types of rockfish

There are 102 rockfish species in the world, 36 of which can be found in British Columbia. (There are only 8 species of salmon in the world.)
Rockfish are magnificent. It says so right in their scientific name. The genus name for rockfish – Sebastes – comes from Sebastos, which is Greek for “magnificent”. But what, exactly, makes this group of fish so magnificent?

Rockfish live a long, long time

Scientists found a rougheye rockfish that was over 200 years old. That rockfish is one of the oldest fish ever found. Rougheye rockfish are sometimes called red snapper on restaurant menus, so you could be eating a piece of history without even knowing it. Imagine: the fish on your plate could have been swimming around before trains were invented and Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, was born!

There are many types of rockfish

There are 102 rockfish species in the world, 36 of which can be found in British Columbia. (There are only 8 species of salmon in the world.)

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

Rockfish look good

Coral reef fish may get all the Hollywood blockbuster movie roles and media hype, but B.C. rockfish have lots of charm. They come in all sizes, shapes and colours, from the dramatically striped tiger rockfish to the brilliantly shimmering canary rockfish.

Rockfish aren’t claustrophobic

Rockfish like their homes to be tight and cozy. The caves formed by rock piles are great for hiding from predators, especially if the rocks are stacked to let the fish hide deep down. Because rockfish look for caves that are close to their body size, it’s easy to figure out where they are – just look for a rock pile with rockfish-sized gaps.

They’re food

Rockfish make up an important part of a healthy diet for many large ocean animals that a lot of us know and love, like harbour seals, sea lions, and lingcod.
Rockfish look good

Coral reef fish may get all the Hollywood blockbuster movie roles and media hype, but B.C. rockfish have lots of charm. They come in all sizes, shapes and colours, from the dramatically striped tiger rockfish to the brilliantly shimmering canary rockfish.

Rockfish aren’t claustrophobic

Rockfish like their homes to be tight and cozy. The caves formed by rock piles are great for hiding from predators, especially if the rocks are stacked to let the fish hide deep down. Because rockfish look for caves that are close to their body size, it’s easy to figure out where they are – just look for a rock pile with rockfish-sized gaps.

They’re food

Rockfish make up an important part of a healthy diet for many large ocean animals that a lot of us know and love, like harbour seals, sea lions, and lingcod.

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

A baby quillback rockfish staying close to a cloud sponge

Photo: P. Edgell

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.


Rockfish babies don`t hatch from eggs. They`re born live, ready to swim!
Rockfish babies don`t hatch from eggs. They`re born live, ready to swim!

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

There are 102 species of rockfish in the world, 36 of which can be found in British Columbia. Howe Sound and Vancouver Island are home to many of these cool rockfish. Find out more about them in our rockfish identification game!

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.


“Rockfish fishery management is like a Greek tragedy...
...Everyone dies at the end.”

- Graham Gillespie, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Well, maybe not everyone, but rockfish need all the help they can get. Rockfish have special characteristics that make them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. We need to take that into account, or we’re going to be all rocked out.

It’s not easy being a baby rockfish

Rockfish can reproduce many times. But just because lots of babies are born, it doesn’t mean that any of them will survive. Young rockfish need very specific conditions and a lot of luck to make it through their first year. For some species, there were only a few years in the last century when young rockfish survived in any great number.

Sexy Old Mamas

Large females give birth Read More
“Rockfish fishery management is like a Greek tragedy...
...Everyone dies at the end.”

- Graham Gillespie, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Well, maybe not everyone, but rockfish need all the help they can get. Rockfish have special characteristics that make them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. We need to take that into account, or we’re going to be all rocked out.

It’s not easy being a baby rockfish

Rockfish can reproduce many times. But just because lots of babies are born, it doesn’t mean that any of them will survive. Young rockfish need very specific conditions and a lot of luck to make it through their first year. For some species, there were only a few years in the last century when young rockfish survived in any great number.

Sexy Old Mamas

Large females give birth to babies with the best chances of surviving. Unfortunately, the old, large fish are also the ones targeted by sports fisheries.

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

Sitting Ducks

Some rockfish don’t move far from their home territories, making them sitting ducks for any fisher who knows where to fish.

Unfortunate Air Expansion

Just as our lungs expand when we come up from a dive, rockfish swim bladders blow up if they’re brought up too quickly to the surface. By the time a fisher reels up a rockfish, it may be dead, with its eyeballs popped out of its sockets and its guts thrusting out of its mouth. If the rockfish was brought up accidentally, releasing it back into the water afterwards isn’t going to help.

Hope in sight

Despite all these factors working against them, rockfish management doesn’t have to be a Greek tragedy. The situation isn’t hopeless; we just have to recognize that rockfish fisheries need to be managed in a way that is sustainable for them. If you want to help, check out our Get Involved section!
Sitting Ducks

Some rockfish don’t move far from their home territories, making them sitting ducks for any fisher who knows where to fish.

Unfortunate Air Expansion

Just as our lungs expand when we come up from a dive, rockfish swim bladders blow up if they’re brought up too quickly to the surface. By the time a fisher reels up a rockfish, it may be dead, with its eyeballs popped out of its sockets and its guts thrusting out of its mouth. If the rockfish was brought up accidentally, releasing it back into the water afterwards isn’t going to help.

Hope in sight

Despite all these factors working against them, rockfish management doesn’t have to be a Greek tragedy. The situation isn’t hopeless; we just have to recognize that rockfish fisheries need to be managed in a way that is sustainable for them. If you want to help, check out our Get Involved section!

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

Two yelloweye rockfish

Photo : B.P. Handy

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.


The last large batch of yelloweye rockfish babies that managed to survive to adulthood was born in 1982. The rockfish on  your plate might be older then you are!
The last large batch of yelloweye rockfish babies that managed to survive to adulthood was born in 1982. The rockfish on  your plate might be older then you are!

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • familiarize himself with the vocabulary used in biology;
  • assess human impacts on biodiversity, and identify ways of preserving biodiversity;
  • describe how personal actions help conserve natural resources and protect the environment in their region;
  • demonstrate an understanding of the dynamic nature of ecosystems.

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