About the Species
U.S. wild-caught widow rockfish is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Above target population level on the Pacific Coast.
At recommended levels.
Most fishing gear used to harvest widow rockfish rarely contacts the ocean floor and has minimal impacts on habitat. Area closures and gear restrictions protect sensitive rocky, cold-water coral and sponge habitats from bottom trawl gear.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch of overfished and protected species.
There are two stocks of widow rockfish: Pacific coast and one stock contained in a stock complex in the Gulf of Alaska. According to the most recent stock assessments:
The Pacific coast stock of widow rockfish is not overfished (2019 stock assessment) and not subject to overfishing based on 2018 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART. This stock had been overfished and was successfully rebuilt in 2011.
The population status of the Gulf of Alaska Other Rockfish Complex, which includes widow rockfish, is unknown. The complex has not been assessed, but according to 2020 catch data, the complex is not subject to overfishing.
- Widow rockfish are dusky-brown with traces of light yellow and red.
- They have black fin membranes and a strongly slanted anal fin.
- They have weak or reduced (short) head spines and a mouth that is relatively small when compared to other rockfish.
- Widow rockfish reach lengths up to 24 inches and may live as long as 60 years, but fish older than 20 are uncommon.
- Males grow faster than females, but females reach larger sizes.
- Widow rockfish mature at about 8 years old or when they are about 16.5 inches long.
- Widow rockfish are internal fertilizers, and larvae are released alive in January or February.
- Juveniles feed on krill and copepods.
- Older fish feed on juvenile crabs, amphipods, krill, and small fishes.
- Chinook salmon and northern fur seals feed on juvenile widow rockfish.
Where They Live
- Widow rockfish are found between the Gulf of Alaska and northern Baja California.
- Adults are rarely seen in California and are most abundant from British Columbia to northern California.
- NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the widow rockfish fishery on the West Coast.
- Managed under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
- Permits and limited entry to the fishery.
- Limit on how much may be harvested in one fishing trip.
- Certain seasons and areas are closed to fishing.
- Gear restrictions help reduce bycatch and impacts on habitat.
- A trawl rationalization catch share program that includes:
- Catch limits based on the population status of each fish stock and divided into shares that are allocated to individual fishermen or groups.
- Provisions that allow fishermen to decide how and when to catch their share.
- NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage widow rockfish as part of the other rockfish complex in the Gulf of Alaska.
- Managed under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska:
- There is no directed fishery for this species in Alaska, and only minor amounts are landed incidentally in other fisheries.
- In 2019, commercial landings of widow rockfish totaled more than 20.8 million pounds and were valued at more than $5.4 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
- The majority of the catch comes from Oregon and Washington and the remainer comes from California and Alaska.
- Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
- Primarily harvested with midwater trawl gear, which has minimal impacts on ocean bottom habitats. To a lesser extent, harvested with bottom trawl gear.
- Midwater and bottom trawls may sometimes catch other species of fish, including overfished and protected species.
- Gear restrictions, closed areas, and catch share programs limit when, where, and how much trawl fishermen can harvest to reduce bycatch of other species.
- Rockfish conservation areas eliminate fishing in areas on the West Coast where overfished rockfish species co-occur with target stocks, like widow rockfish. These closed areas help prevent bycatch of overfished rockfish.
- Widow rockfish are often caught incidentally in the Pacific whiting fishery
- Managers are working to reduce incidental catch through the use of annual catch limits and catch shares.
- Recreational anglers fish for widow rockfish, but they comprise only a minor part of recreational groundfish fisheries.