2016 Assessment of the Northern Rockfish Stock in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands

February 12, 2016

Northern rockfish (Sebastes polyspinus) inhabit the outer continental shelf and upper slope regions of the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea.  Northern rockfish (Sebastes polyspinus) in the Bering Sea/Aleutians Islands (BSAI) region were assessed under Tier 5 of Amendment 56 of the NPFMC BSAI Groundfish FMP until 2004.  The reading of archived otoliths from the Aleutian Islands (AI) surveysallowed the development of an age-structured model for northern rockfish beginning in 2003. Since 2004, BSAI northern rockfish have been assessed as a Tier 3 species in the BSAI Groundfish FMP.

A stock structure evaluation was included as an appendix to the 2012 stock assessment (Spencer and Ianelli 2012). A variety of types of data were considered, including genetic data, potential barriers to movement, growth differences, and spatial differences in growth and age and size structure.

Several genetic tests were conducted on northern rockfish samples obtained in the 2004 Aleutian Islands and EBS trawl surveys (Gharrett et al. 2012). A total of 499 samples were collected at six locations ranging from the EBS slope to the western Aleutian Islands, and analyses were applied to 11 microsatellite loci. Information on the spatial population structure was obtained from the spatial analysis of molecular variance (SAMOVA; Dupanloup et al. 2002), which identified sets of collections that showed maximum differentiation.  Three groups were identified: 1) the eastern Bering Sea; 2) two collections west of Amchitka Pass; and 3) three collections between Amchitka Pass and Unimak Pass. The genetic data also show a statistically significant pattern of isolation by distance, indicating genetic structure being produced from the dispersal of individuals being smaller than the spatial extent of the sampling locations. A range of expected lifetime dispersal distance were estimated, reflecting  different assumptions regarding effective population size and migration rates of spawners, and the estimated lifetime dispersal distances did not exceed 250 km. This estimated dispersal distance is comparable to other Sebastes species in the north Pacific, which have ranged from 4 to 40 for near shore species such as grass rockfish (Buonaccorsi et al. 2004), brown rockfish ((Buonaccorsi et al. 2005), and vermilion rockfish (Hyde and Vetter 2009), and up to 111 km for deeper species such as POP (Palof et al. 2011) and darkblotched rockfish (Gomez-Uchida and Banks 2005). The demographic implication is that movement of fish from birth to reproduction is at a much smaller scale than the geographic scale of the BSAI area.  Finally, it is important to recall that the time unit for the estimated dispersal is not years, but generations, and the generation time for northern rockfish is more than 36 years.

Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on 10/26/2020

Research in Alaska North Pacific Groundfish Stock Assessments Northern Rockfish