Canary Rockfish | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Canary Rockfish

Sebastes pinniger

Also known as

Red snapper, fantail, canary, orange rockfish, rock cod

Distribution

Northeastern Pacific from the Gulf of Alaska, USA to Baja California, Mexico

Écosystèmes/habitats

Rocky bottoms with complex structures

Feeding Habits

Active predator

Conservation Status

Threatened

Taxonomie

Order Scorpaeniformes (scorpionfishes & flatheads); Family Sebastidae (rockfishes, rockcods & thorny

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Canary rockfish are one of the top three most commonly harvested rockfish, caught in both commercial and sport fisheries. They have been harvested for decades, which has unfortunately greatly reduced their population size across the coast of British Columbia. They are also at risk from fishing pressures due to high levels of post-release mortality, dying after being caught and released by fishers, from both recreational fisheries and as incidental catch in commercial fisheries. This is due to “barotrauma,” a phenomenon in which the eyes and other organs of deepwater fishes greatly expand and can erupt, caused by the sudden change in pressure as they are brought from high pressure, deepwater habitats, to low-pressures at the surface of the ocean.

Canary rockfish are one of the larger rockfish, with a compressed body, large head and a slightly curved profile. They have bright orange mottling over a light grey, with a light grey lateral line and three distinct orange stripes on their head. Canary rockfish have several hard spines along their back directly in front of a flat dorsal fin, and all of their fins are a bright yellowish-orange. They are typically 55-60 centimetres long, but can grow to be as long as 75 centimetres.

Like all rockfish, Canary rockfish are slow to grow, late to mature, and have a long lifespan. Females mature at around 13 years of age, and live for 20 to 30 years. Rockfish, are “ovoviviparous,” meaning their eggs are fertilized internally, and females release live young after the eggs hatch inside her. Females will release around 100,000 to more than 1.5 million larvae, depending on her size and age, which is considerably more larvae than most other rockfish. 

These larvae are then found floating along the surface of the open ocean, where they remain for several months, feeding on zooplankton, being passively dispersed by ocean currents. As they mature they settle on the ocean floor, in areas with complex structural habitats such as submarine canyons, rocky reefs and kelp forests. As adults, they eat demersal (bottom dwelling) invertebrates and small fishes, including smaller rockfishes.

Commercial trawl fisheries for Canary rockfish began in the early 1940s, with the U.S. trawl fishery moving north into Canadian waters in the 1950s and 1960s. There were also large-scale foreign trawl fisheries by Soviet vessels in the 1960s and Japanese vessels in the 1970s, but little data exists from these fisheries. Foreign fishing was all but eliminated by 1977 following the introduction of the Canadian Extended Jurisdiction of 200 nautical miles. 

Management measures put in place in 1994 and 1995, including 100 per cent at-sea observer coverage and 100 per cent dockside monitoring of the commercial groundfish fleet in British Columbia, helped gather important data about the Canary rockfish population size. This information is critical because rockfish have high rates of mortality from any fishery due to barotrauma caused by the sudden change in pressure as they are brought to the surface. They are caught in small numbers today by the groundfish trawl fishery in British Columbia, and are also caught during salmon trolling as well as in recreational and First Nations’ fisheries.

Canary rockfish are not recommended as a sustainable seafood option by most certifications. 

In 2007, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) listed Canary rockfish as Threatened. They were given this status based on a combined survey index of the southern part of the Canadian distribution, which indicated there was a population decline of 86 per cent in the 30 years leading up to 2007. Canary rockfish found in the neighbouring waters of the northwestern coast of the United States were declared “overfished” in 1999. Under the Precautionary Approach Framework by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, canary rockfish have been assessed as Cautious. 

Oceana Canada is working to protect Canada’s oceans for species like the Canary rockfish. Find out more about our campaigns and join us in helping to bring abundance back to the ocean.

  • NOAA. (2014). NOAA fisheries office of protected resources: Canary rockfish (Sebastes pinniger). Retrieved from: http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/pr/species/fish/canary-rockfish.html 
  • DFO. (2010). Aquatic species – details for Canary rockfish. Retrieved from: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/aquatic-aquatique/canary-rockfish-sebaste-canari-eng.htm 
  • DFO. (2009). Recovery potential assessment of canary rockfish in British Columbia waters. Retrieved from: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/338492.pdf 
  • DFO. (2010). Stock assessment update for British Columbia canary rockfish. Retrieved from: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/340650.pdf
  • COSEWIC. (2007). COSEWIC assessment and status report of the canary rockfish, Sebastes pinniger, in Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_canary_rockfish_0808_e.pdf