The Yelloweye Rockfish is a rockfish of the genus Sebastes, and one of the biggest members of the genus. Its name derives from its coloration. It is also locally known as "red snapper", not to be confused with the warm-water red snapper that formally carries the name. The Yelloweye Rockfish is one of the world's longest-lived fish species, and is cited to live to a maximum of 114 to 120 years of age. As they grow older, they change in color, from reddish in youth, to bright orange in adulthood, to pale yellow in old age.
Because of the slow reproductive age of the species, recovery of the species is difficult, and liable to last decades, even with the harshest restrictions; Washington state, for example, maintains a quota of under 1000 individuals per year. It is currently under consideration for listing under Threatened or Endangered status.
The Yelloweye Rockfish is colored red on its back, orange to yellow on the sides, and black on the fin tips. Its young are typically under 28 cm (11 in) in length, and differ from the adults in that they have two reddish-white stripes along their belly, and are often red. Because of the distinct difference in coloration between juveniles and adults, they were considered separate species for a long time. Its head spines are exceptionally strong. They grow to a maximum length of 36 in (0.9 m) and are typically found in the 28-to-215-fathom (51-to-393 m) range, although specimen have been reported up to a maximum depth of 260 fathoms (475 m).
Yelloweye Rockfish fall prey to both bait and jigs that are fished nearly rocky structure. When halibut fishing, the Yelloweye Rockfish often move onto the scene first, followed by the big flatfish. Not to beat a dead horse, but the long term goal is to avoid them, not to catch them. Techniques for decreasing yelloweye mortality include fishing for halibut over flat bottoms with less rocky structure. Also, research is being conducted on deep water release methods for yelloweye.
Because these are non-target species, we don’t have special gear for them. Most are taken on halibut gear. Yelloweye Rockfish have a closed air bladder and when they come up from depth their stomach and airbladder decompress and stick out their mouth like a baloon, making it impossible for the fish to return to the bottom. We are working on gear for deepwater release to address this “baratrauma” problem.
The Yelloweye Rockfish has been recorded all along the East Pacific, from Umnak Island and Prince William Sound, Alaska, to Ensenada, Baja California. They are typically found in deeper, rocky-bottomed areas; in fact, they often spend their entire lifetime on a single rock pile.