Abbreviated Life History of Gopher Rockfish
(Sebastes carnatus)

Gopher Rockfish; Photo by Steve Lonhart of Simon/NOAA

Carnatus, a Latin word for “flesh-colored” describes the coloring of gopher rockfish, which is reddish-brown to olive-brown with large pink to whitish blotches.

Distribution, Stock Structure and Migration

Gopher rockfish range from Cape Blanco, Oregon to San Roque, central Baja California, but they are most common from Sonoma County to Santa Monica Bay, California. Larvae and young juveniles are pelagic, but as the juveniles mature, they will settle on rocky reefs or into the kelp canopy. Adults are residential, demersal, and exhibit territorial behavior over their home ranges of up to 30-36 square feet. This nearshore species is associated with kelp beds and rocky reefs, from the intertidal to about 265 ft, most commonly in depths between 30 and 120 ft. The gopher rockfish is similar to black-and-yellow rockfish but genetic analyses on the two morphs have yielded varied results. The two morphs are distinguishable by color and inhabit different depth ranges, however, they are nearly identical in other ecological and morphological characters, and cannot be distinguished genetically.

Age and Growth

The gopher rockfish is a relatively small rockfish species; the largest recorded size is 17 inches. Maximum age estimates from northern and central California range from 24 to 35 years. Based on a calculated age-length relationship, an 8-in total length (TL) gopher rockfish is approximately 3–4 year old, a 10-in TL fish is approximately 5–6 year old, and a 12-in fish is approximately 9–10 year old.

Reproduction, Fecundity and Seasonality

Gopher rockfish produce one brood per season. Off central California, spawning takes place between January and July, with peak spawning between February and March. Fecundity is about 425,000 eggs in a 10-in fish.

In southern California waters, both males and females reach first maturity at 3 years, 5.3 in TL. Off central and northern California, half of the population of males, as well as females, will reach maturity at 4 years, 6.7 in TL, and by 10 years, 9 in TL, the entire population of males will have reached reproductive maturity. Larval release occurs from January to May, peaking in March. Fecundity off southern California is less productive, at 175,000 eggs. It may take up to 90 days, at a range of 0.08 to 1.6 in TL, before the larvae settle out of the plankton. Newly settled gophers resemble black-and-yellow, copper, and kelp rockfishes.

Natural Mortality

There have not been any studies to observe patterns of gopher rockfish age structure to estimate natural mortality, which strongly influences estimates of productivity and abundance. The 2005 stock assessment used the value of 0.20 in the baseline model, based on Hoenig (1983).

Predator/Prey Relationships

Gopher rockfish larvae are diurnal planktivores. Juveniles are also diurnal and eat crustaceans. Their predators include fishes, such as rockfishes, lingcod, cabezon, and salmon, as well as birds and porpoises. Adult gopher rockfish are nocturnal predators that ambush their prey. Some of their prey items include crustaceans (particularly Cancer sp. crabs, caridean shrimp, anomurans), fish (including juvenile rockfish), and mollusks. Their predators include sharks, dolphins, and seals.


The territorial gopher rockfish excludes kelp rockfish from bottom territories and black-and-yellow rockfish from the deeper portions of its vertical distribution. Also, based on co-occurrence, gopher rockfish probably competes for food and space with cabezon, lingcod, greenlings, and other rockfish such as China, quillback, and copper.

Critical Habitat

Small juveniles inhabit the kelp canopy. Larger juveniles and adults are demersal and prefer shallow rocky substrate and kelp beds, as well as sandy areas near reefs, usually between 30 and 120 foot depths.

Fishery and Status of Stocks

This species is a valuable component of recreational and commercial fisheries in California. The portion of the stock north of Point Conception was assessed in 2005. Gopher rockfish did not appear to be below target levels and the stock appeared to be healthy. Currently, the gopher rockfish is managed as part of the Nearshore Rockfish category, but has had a set harvest limit since 2006.

Information on this page was originally presented in the Nearshore Fishery Management Plan (these profiles updated July, 2010).

Gopher Rockfish