Chilipepper rockfish is one of the most important commercial species of the approximately 70 fish in the rockfish family. Chilipepper rockfish lives in deep water and accordingly has brighter coloration than rockfish that dwell in shallower water. Rockfish fillets are generally divided into two categories based on flesh, red-fleshed and brown-fleshed. Chilipepper rockfish falls in the red-fleshed category, and is the more desirable of the two categories generally, due to a longer shelf life and less oil content. Rockfish skin should be shiny and bright and is stale if it appears yellow, orange, or wrinkled. Fillets shouldn’t have signs of browning, graying or yellowing.
Chilipepper rockfish grow slowly and generally live up to 35 years with the possibility of living up to 200 years old. Male chilipepper rockfish mature at about two years, and females at about four years, growing much larger than males. Chilipepper rockfish are slender, with an elongated head and a protruding lower jaw.
Spawning occurs from September to April, peaking in December and January. Depending on their size, a female can host between 29,000-540,000 eggs. Eggs are fertilized internally and birthed live.
Adult chilipepper rockfish feed on small crustaceans, small squids, and small fish such as anchovies or sardines. Predators of chilipepper rockfish include marine birds and mammals, king salmon, lingcod, Pacific hake, and other rockfish.
Chilipepper rockfish are found along the Pacific coast of North America from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico north to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The greatest concentration of chilipepper rockfish occurs in California from Point Conception to Cape Mendocino. They are commonly found in large schools in waters between 164-1148 feet (50-350 meters), but can be found in waters as deep as 1349 feet (425 meters). Adults and older juveniles can be found over deep, high relief rocky areas and reefs as well as along cliff drop-offs and sand and mud bottoms. Young juveniles and larvae are pelagic and occur in shallower waters closer to the surface. Chilipepper rockfish are not considered a migratory species.
Science & Management
The Southwest Fisheries Science Center: Fisheries Ecology Division hosted a panel in 2007 to assess chilipepper rockfish using catch age and catch at length data, and relative abundance collected from various fisheries. Stock growth rates are seen to strongly correlate with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation Index – a recurring pattern of climate variability over the Pacific basin. Additional research directly integrating climate indices into chilipepper rockfish growth projections is recommended to build upon current studies and for better management strategies.
The National Marine Fisheries Service in Santa Cruz, CA outlined further recommendations for future research and data collection for the next chilipepper rockfish stock assessment, which include but are not limited to:
Reconstruct the chilipepper rockfish catch history to include all rockfish species to ensure efficiency and accuracy
Explore the use of conditional age-at-length data as opposed to coupled age- and length- composition data
Explore time-varying growth as influenced by environmental changes
Pursue age-validation of chilipepper rockfish
Develop a concise set of documents that expound on common data sources and methodology to derive assessment model inputs
NOAA Fisheries and Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) manage the US West Coast chilipepper rockfish fishery under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). In addition to chilipepper 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 chilipepper rockfish populations along the US Pacific are now considered to be healthy.
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 chilipepper rockfish or other groundfish in the state-managed waters off of Washington.
Chilipepper rockfish have traits that make them less inherently vulnerable to fishing pressure (as compared to other rockfish species) and current management is considered strong in part due to:
Spatial closures to avoid overfished species and sensitive habitat
Bycatch reduction measures
Another component of the plan is the establishment of an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) catch share program. The plan limits the amount of fishers able to participate in the groundfish fishery, restricts the number of fishing permits available, and sets a total allowable catch limit. Whereas non-IFQ fisheries have varying levels of at-sea observer coverage, the catch share program requires 100 percent at-sea and dockside monitoring. A subset of the IFQ, the California Groundfish Collective, comprises 11 fishing operations that have entered into an agreement to pool member’s IFQs.
Chilipepper rockfish are a fairly long-lived rockfish found in midwater and rocky ocean bottoms from Baja California to Vancouver Island. Chilipepper rockfish have traits that make them less inherently vulnerable to fishing pressure than other rockfish species. Seafood Watch reported in 2014 that their U.S. West Coast populations are currently healthy according to the most recent stock assessments from 2006 and 2007.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Chilipepper rockfish are targeted in the non-hake groundfish fisheries off the U.S. West Coast, which use a variety of gears such as longline, pot, hook and line, midwater and bottom trawl. Most chilipepper 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 chilipepper rockfish help reduce the impact. Seafood Watch gave chilipepper rockfish fisheries a yellow rating for habitat and ecosystem impacts.
Bycatch in the California Groundfish Collective fishery and non-hake commercial groundfish fisheries on the U.S. West Coast that catch chilipepper rockfish is fairly low. Seafood Watch noted in 2014 that, given the multi-species nature of groundfish fisheries, the distinction between targeted and bycatch species is not always clear.
In the U.S., chilipepper 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. Seafood Watch called chilipepper rockfish management strong and effective, particularly in the California Groundfish Collective fishery.