2015 Assessment of the Rougheye and Blackspotted Rockfish Stock Complex in the Gulf of Alaska
Rougheye (Sebastes aleutianus) and blackspotted (S. melanostictus) rockfish inhabit the outer continental shelf and upper continental slope of the northeastern Pacific. Their distribution extends around the arc of the North Pacific from Japan to Point Conception, California and includes the Bering Sea (Kramer and O’Connell 1988). The two species occur in sympatric distribution, with rougheye extending farther south along the Pacific Rim and blackspotted extending into the western Aleutian Islands (Orr and Hawkins 2008). The overlap of the two species is quite extensive, ranging primarily from southeast Alaska through the Alaska Peninsula (Gharrett et al. 2005, Orr and Hawkins 2008). The center of abundance for both species appears to be Alaskan waters, particularly the eastern Gulf of Alaska (GOA). Adults in the GOA inhabit a narrow band along the upper continental slope at depths of 300-500 m; outside of this depth interval, abundance decreases considerably (Ito, 1999). These species often co-occur with shortraker rockfish (Sebastes borealis).
Though relatively little is known about their biology and life history, rougheye and blackspotted (RE/BS) rockfish appear to be K-selected with late maturation, slow growth, extreme longevity, and low natural mortality. As with other Sebastes species, RE/BS rockfish are ovoviviparous, where fertilization and incubation of eggs is internal and embryos receive at least some maternal nourishment. There have been no studies on fecundity of RE/BS in Alaska. One study on their reproductive biology indicated that rougheye had protracted reproductive periods, and that parturition (larval release) may take place in December through April (McDermott 1994). There is no information as to when males inseminate females or if migrations for spawning/breeding occur. The larval stage is pelagic, but larval studies are hindered because the larvae at present can only be positively identified by genetic analysis, which is labor-intensive. The post-larvae and early young-of-the-year stages also appear to be pelagic (Matarese et al. 1989, Gharrett et al. 2002). Genetic techniques have been used recently to identify post-larval RE/BS rockfish from opportunistically collected samples in epipelagic waters far offshore in the Gulf of Alaska, which is the only documentation of habitat preference for this life stage.
There is no information on when juvenile RE/BS rockfish become demersal. Juvenile rougheye and blackspotted rockfish (15- to 30-cm fork length) are frequently taken in Gulf of Alaska bottom trawl surveys, implying the use of low relief, trawlable bottom substrates. They are generally found at shallower, more inshore areas than adults and have been taken in variety of locations, ranging from inshore fiords to offshore waters of the continental shelf. Studies using manned submersibles have found that large numbers of small, juvenile rockfish are frequently associated with rocky habitat on both the shallow and deep shelf of the GOA (Carlson and Straty 1981, Straty 1987, Krieger 1993). Another submersible study on the GOA shelf observed juvenile red rockfish closely associated with sponges that were growing on boulders (Freese and Wing 2004). Although these studies did not specifically identify rougheye or blackspotted rockfish, it is reasonable to suspect that juvenile RE/BS rockfish may be among the species that utilize this habitat as refuge during their juvenile stage.