2014 Assessment of the Shortraker Rockfish Stock in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands
Shortraker rockfish (Sebastes borealis) are distributed along the continental slope in the north Pacific from Point Conception in southern California to Japan, and are commonly found between eastern Kamchatka and British Columbia (Love et al. 2002). Shortraker rockfish are among the longest lived animal species in the world, reaching ages > 150 years. The species is viviparous with spawning believed to occur throughout the spring and summer (Westerheim 1975, McDermott 2004). Little is known of shortraker rockfish early life history and habitat preferences, as immature fish are rarely observed. Love et al. (2002) indicates the species is found at shallower depths during early life history. As adults the species occurs in a narrow range of depths on the continental slope centered at ~350 m (Rooper 2008) often in areas of steep slope (Rooper and Martin 2012). In bottom trawl survey data, the species is most common through the Aleutian Islands(AI) and northern Gulf of Alaska (GOA). Studies of habitat preferences in the GOA indicate shortraker rockfish may be more abundant in boulder patches with associated Primnoa coral (Krieger and Ito 1999, Krieger and Wing 2002). Shortraker rockfish consume large benthic or near-bottom prey, including myctophids, shrimp and squid (Yang et al. 2006).
Several types of research can be used to infer stock structure of shortraker rockfish, including larval distribution patterns and genetic studies. In 2002, an analysis of archived Sebastes larvae was undertaken by Dr. Art Kendall; using data collected in 1990 off southeast Alaska (650 larvae) and the AFSC ichthyoplankton database (16,895 Sebastes larvae, collected on 58 cruises from 1972 to 1999, primarily in the GOA). The southeast Alaska larvae all showed the same morph, and were too small to have characteristics that would allow species identification. A preliminary examination of the AFSC ichthyoplankton database indicated that most larvae were collected in the spring, the larvae were widespread in the areas sampled, and most were small (5-7 mm). The larvae were organized into three size classes for analysis: <7.9 mm, 8.0-13.9 mm, and >14.0 mm. A subset of the abundant small larvae was examined, as were all larvae in the medium and large groups. Species identification based on morphological characteristics is difficult because of overlapping characteristics among species, as few rockfish species in the north Pacific have published descriptions of the complete larval developmental series. However, all of the larvae examined could be assigned to four morphs identified by Kendall (1991), where each morph is associated with one or more species. Most of the small larvae examined belong to a single morph, which contains the species S. alutus (Pacific ocean perch), S. polyspinus (northern rockfish), and S. ciliatus (dusky rockfish). Some larvae (18) belonged to a second morph which has been identified as S. borealis (shortraker rockfish) in the Bering Sea. The locations of these larvae were near Kodiak Island, the Semidi Islands, Chirkof Island, the Shumagin Islands, and near the eastern end of the AI.
Population structure for shortraker rockfish has been observed in microsatellite data (Matala et al. 2004), with the geographic scale consistent with current management regions (i.e., GOA, AI, and EBS). The most efficient partitioning of the genetic variation into non-overlapping sets of populations identified three groups: a southeast Alaska group, a group extending from southeast Alaska to Kodiak Island, and a group extending from Kodiak Island to the central AI (the western limit of the samples). The available data are consistent with a neighborhood genetic model, suggesting that the expected dispersal of a particular specimen is much smaller than the species range. A parallel study with mtDNA revealed weaker stock structure than that observed with the microsatellite data. It is not known how shortraker in the EBS or western AI relate to the large population groups identified by Matala et al. (2004) due to a lack of samples in these areas.