Whole yellowtail rockfish should have shiny, bright, and clear eyes and the skin should be shiny and bright. If the skin appears yellow, orange, or wrinkled that is an indication that it is stale. Rockfish fillets shouldn’t have signs of browning, graying or yellowing and the fillets hold together better with skin on. Gills should be bright pink or red (not brick red) and scales should be shining and clinging to the skin. Flesh on fillets should be moist and when pressed, bounce back to original form.
Based on average landings of yellowtail rockfish from 2012-2016 and using 2016 Seafood Watch ratings, the sustainability breakdown of yellowtail rockfish is as follows:
~25% of yellowtail rockfish landings meet a Seafood Watch "Best Choice (green)" - from U.S. West Coast (~60% from Oregon and ~40% from Washington
~75% of yellowtail rockfish landings meet a Seafood Watch "Good Alternative (yellow)" from British Columbia
Total yellowtail rockfish landings increased ~15% in 2016 compared to 2012
Landings of yellowtail rockfish in British Columbia increased ~20% in 2016 compared to 2012
Landings of yellowtail rockfish in Oregon increased ~60% while landings in Washington decreased ~60% in 2016 compared to 2012
In March 2016, the Seafood Watch recommendation for bottom trawl-caught yellowtail rockfish changed from "Avoid" to "Good Alternative"
Yellowtail rockfish grow more than two feet in length and can live up to 50 years. They mature between ages three to five. Fertilization of the eggs is internal, and the females give birth to live young. Females can host between 50,000 to 600,000 eggs depending on their size. Adult yellowtail rockfish feed on shellfish and small fish such as shrimp and anchovies.
Unlike most rockfish, yellowtail rockfish are able to quickly release gas from their swim bladders as they ascend through the water column, preventing barotraumas that kills most other species that are caught in deep water. They get their name from their yellow tail and fins; however, after capture, their body will turn a light green. Though similar in appearance to olive rockfish, yellowtail rockfish lack spines on their head, which has a convex space between the eyes, and have eight soft rays on their anal fin.
Yellowtail rockfish populations are negatively affected by climate change because successful recruitment, growth, and survival rates correlate with strong upwelling and cooler water. Warmer water also influences food availability and increases in ocean acidity will result in a loss of shelled prey options that account for a large part of yellowtail rockfish diet.
Yellowtail rockfish are found along the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada and range from San Diego, California to Kodiak Island, Alaska – with the center of yellowtail rockfish abundance occurring from Oregon to British Columbia. The species inhabits depths of 0-1801 feet (0-549 meters) and are usually caught by fishers at depths ranging from 361-659 feet (110 to 201 meters). Yellowtail rockfish are common along the middle shelf near the seafloor – though not on seafloor. Adults are considered semi-pelagic or pelagic and occur near steep slopes or above rocky reefs. They can also be found above mud with cobble, boulder, and rock ridges as well as sand bottoms. Adults can be found alone or in schools (sometimes comprising more than 1000 individual fish) in these areas. These schools may persist and stay in the same location for many years.
Science & Management
There has been little research done recently on yellowtail rockfish beyond population assessments and studies. Past projects undertaken include the Alaska Department of Fish and Game whom studied the initial behavior of displaced yellowtail rockfish to test their response when they are first released after capture; and, the National Marine Fisheries Service whom conducted both field and laboratory studies on the reproductive performance of yellowtail rockfish in order to characterize the reproduction of the northern stocks.
NOAA Fisheries and Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) manage the US West Coast yellowtail rockfish fishery under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). In addition to yellowtail rockfish, the FMP covers over 90 different species along the US West Coast including other rockfish and flatfish. Implemented in 1982, the FMP has been amended 28 times to account for changes in the fishery, reauthorizations of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and for internal PFMC procedures. A combination of fishing pressures and natural factors significantly reduced rockfish abundance in the 1980s and 1990s and the US Pacific groundfish fishery was on the verge of collapse in 2000 – with the federal government formally declaring it an economic disaster in early 2000. Since 2002, management measures have been successful in allowing overfished stocks to rebuild and while still vulnerable to fishing pressure, the US West Coast yellowtail rockfish population is now considered to be healthy.
Yellowtail rockfish are divided along the US West Coast into two stocks – a northern and a southern stock with the boundary between the two stocks being 40°30 ́N. The US commercial groundfish fishery is comprised of three components: Limited Entry (LE), Open Access (OA), and Nearshore (NS). The LE and OA sectors are managed by the PFMC while the NS sector is jointly managed by the PFMC and the states of Oregon and California respectfully. There is no NS fishery for yellowtail rockfish or other groundfish in the state-managed waters off of Washington.
Current management of US West Coast yellowtail rockfish is considered strong in part due to:
Spatial closures to avoid overfished species and sensitive habitat
Bycatch reduction measures
Beginning in 2011, LE trawl permit holders were allowed to participate in a catch share program. Participants in the program receive an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) of the total catch of the 29 commercial species/species complexes along the US West Coast. Fishers participating in the program can fish their quota at anytime during the season and can use non-trawl gear to catch their quota shares. Whereas non-IFQ fisheries have varying levels of at-sea observer coverage, the catch share program requires 100 percent at-sea and dockside monitoring.
As the majority of yellowtail rockfish abundance occurs between Oregon and British Columbia, there is no direct fishery in Alaska for yellowtail rockfish and the species is not considered to be of significant commercial interest in the region.
Yellowtail rockfish are managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in Canada. The species is managed as two areas along the Canadian coast – a coastal stock defined from central Vancouver Island northwards and a boundary stock that includes waters off southern Vancouver Island. There is no known biological basis for a stock boundary in Canada and this division was created for management purposes. Yellowtail rockfish are considered an important component of the multi-species and multi-gear groundfish fishery in British Columbia and currently have the second largest single species total allowable catch (TAC) among rockfish species along Pacific Canada. Among management measures the DFO establishes are:
Annual quotas (98.91 percent allocated to the trawl sector, 1.09 percent allocated to hook and line)
Bycatch reduction measures to protect corals and sponges
Yellowtail rockfish are a fairly long-lived rockfish found in midwater and rocky ocean bottoms from Southern California to Unalaska Island, Alaska. Yellowtail rockfish have a high inherent vulnerability to fishing pressure. Recent stock assessments from the U.S. West Coast yellowtail rockfish populations in good shape, while the British Columbia stocks fair slightly worse.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Yellowtail rockfish are targeted using a variety of gears such as longline, pot, hook and line, midwater, and bottom trawl. Most yellowtail rockfish are caught using bottom trawl, which can do significant damage to the seafloor. However, spatial restrictions on bottom trawl gear in the fisheries targeting yellowtail rockfish help reduce the impact.
Because yellowtail rockfish are caught in a multi-species groundfish fishery, the distinction between targeted and bycatch species is not always clear. What is usually considered as bycatch doesn't necessarily apply for these fisheries, but rather the targeting of specific species within the groundfish complex and avoiding others is how bycatch is evaluated. Bycatch is managed on the U.S. West Coast through a combination of gear and spatial restrictions and is considered mostly effective and varies by specific gears. Bycatch is a major concern in British Columbia primarily due to the uncertainty of stock statuses of several other rockfish species as well as some shark species.
In the U.S., yellowtail rockfish are managed with other non-hake groundfish by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Management measures include harvest control rules, gear restrictions, catch limits, and scientific monitoring. While U.S. management of yellowtail rockfish is considered strong and effective, management in British Columbia is considered only moderately effective because of the lack of harvest control rules and stock reference points.