About the Species
Yellowtail Rockfish can be found in the Northeast Pacific, from Southern California to Alaska. It is regularly found over deep reefs from the surface to depths of 1,800 feet.
NOAA Fisheries and Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the U.S. West Coast yellowtail rockfish fishery under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan. In addition to yellowtail rockfish, the FMP covers over 90 different species including other rockfish and flatfish.
In Alaska, NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage yellowtail rockfish under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska.
The northern Pacific coast stock is above its target population level.
At recommended levels.
Most fishing gear used to harvest yellowtail 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 yellowtail rockfish: northern Pacific coast and southern Pacific Coast. According to the most recent stock assessments:
- The northern Pacific coast stock is not overfished (2017 stock assessment) and not subject to overfishing based on 2018 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- The population status of the Southern Pacific Coast Minor Shelf Rockfish Complex, which includes southern Pacific coast yellowtail rockfish, is unknown. The complex has not been assessed, but according to 2018 catch data, the complex is not subject to overfishing.
- Yellowtail rockfish are greyish brown on top and fade to white on the belly.
- Their body has trace yellow spotting.
- Yellowtail tail fins are yellowish green.
- Their other fins have a darker yellowish green coloration.
- Yellowtail rockfish mature between three and five years old.
- They can live up to 50 years.
- They grow more than two feet in length.
- Females can produce between 50,000 and 600,000 eggs, depending on the size of the female.
- Yellowtail rockfish have internal fertilization and the females give birth to live young.
- Adults feed on shellfish, such as shrimp, and small forage fish, such as anchovies.
- Yellowtail rockfish are unique in that they can rapidly release gas from their swim bladders.
- When caught at depth the yellowtail rockfish can avoid barotrauma that kills most other species.
Where They Live
- Yellowtail rockfish are found along the Pacific coast of North America and range from Kodiak Island, Alaska to Baja California, Mexico.
- NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the yellowtail rockfish fishery on the West Coast.
- Yellowtail rockfish are managed as a single stock north of Cape Mendocino, California, and southward, as part of the southern Pacific coast minor shelf rockfish complex.
- 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.
- Yellowtail rockfish have been underutilized. The recent harvest rule changes to the catch share program will allow increased catches of underutilized species, such as yellowtail and chilipepper rockfish, lingcod, and Pacific cod. These changes were possible because of improvements observed in other stocks that had previously constrained the harvest of fish like yellowtail rockfish due to low population levels.
- NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage yellowtail rockfish as part of the Gulf of Alaska other rockfish complex.
- Managed under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska:
- There is no directed fishing for this species in the Gulf of Alaska, and only minor amounts are landed incidentally in other fisheries.
- Commercial fishery:
- In 2019, commercial landings of yellowtail rockfish totaled more than 7.7 million pounds and were valued at $2.3 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database. The majority of landings are in Oregon and Washington.
- 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 canary rockfish. These closed areas help prevent bycatch of overfished rockfish.
- Yellowtail 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.