Rockfish, Sebastes spp.

About these species

Treefish, Sebastes serriceps, at Anacapa Island (Photo © Douglas Klug)

With 56 species living in the Southern California Bight (Point Conception to Punta Colonet in Baja), the Southern California coast contains the highest rockfish diversity in the world.

Sebastidae, a family that includes rockfishes, scorpionfishes, and ocean and sea perches

Most of the world’s cold temperate seas


The rockfish genus Sebastes includes 110 species of extremely important bottom dwelling fish. Most are red, reddish brown, or brown in color with mottled or barred patterns. Their dorsal fins have spines that contain mild venom, which, while less toxic than that of their relatives (e.g. scorpionfishes), still inflicts a painful sting.

Habitat & Behavior

Many rockfish species are more active at night and feed on crustaceans and small fishes. Rockfish are among the most long-lived fish species; most species have 50 year life spans, and several have been known surpass 100 years of age.


Many rockfish species in California were heavily overfished in the 20th century by sport and commercial fishermen. A fishing ban was implemented in the 2000s, which has helped many populations increase to levels where they can be safely fished again. Today, rockfish are excellent indictors of coastal ecosystem health.

About this Map

To create this map, researchers used species distribution models to predict suitable habitat for 9 different rockfish species, listed below. They then stacked, or added, the models together to show habitats that could be suitable for multiple species. The data has a spatial resolution of 200 meters and includes areas shallower than or equal to 45 meters deep.

  • Black and Yellow Rockfish, Sebastes chrysomelas
  • Blue Rockfish, Sebastes mystinus
  • Brown Rockfish, Sebastes auriculatus
  • Copper Rockfish, Sebastes caurinus
  • Gopher Rockfish, Sebastes carnatus
  • Kelp Rockfish, Sebastes atrovirens
  • Olive Rockfish, Sebastes serranoides
  • Treefish, Sebastes serriceps
  • Vermilion Rockfish, Sebastes miniatus
Vermilion rockfish, Sebastes miniatus (Photo: Lovell and Libby Langstroth © California ACademy of Sciences)

Data source: Stacked species distribution model derived from Zellmer et al. 2019 in Frontiers in Marine Science, 6. [link]

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Amanda J. Zellmer for generously sharing this coastal marine biodiversity data.

References: Santhanam, R. (2018). Biology and Ecology of Venomous Marine Scorpionfishes. Academic Press. [doi]