Canary Rockfish

A Canary Rockfish. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

This pretty fish is called a canary rockfish (or Sebastes pinniger, literally translated to magnificent large finned, hence the title). All along its back, those fin spines are actually venomous, although not as venomous as some of its relatives. Its a great defense, but its first defense is, well, to be a rock. It sits really still along rocky bottoms, on kelp leaves or along piers and man made structures. Since predators eyes are attracted to motion, sitting still really helps keep them from being noticed. But, failing that, venomous spines. Win! I suppose its major defense against humans is that it is really high in mercury and PCB’s, poisons that in excess can cause anything from numbness, memory loss and irritability to circulatory failure and permanent damage to the kidneys and the brain. And that’s in adults. Children or developing fetuses have even more health risks to worry about. Mercury accumulates in fish that live for a very long time, or are top predators because they accumulate mercury from all of the fish that they eat.  San Francisco Bay is particularly bad for mercury contamination in fish as well, because the gold miners used to use mercury to separate the gold from the rock and all of that mercury has come down the river into our estuary.

Despite containing human poison in its flesh, this animal is listed as threatened and protected under the ESA because of overfishing. Rockfish live for a very long time. From the many species of rockfish, scientists have estimated life spans from between 100 and 200 years! (This species lives to be around 75 years old) Like most animals that live a long time, these animals are late to mature and reproduce, so often they are fished before they ever have young. Which, by the way, are born alive, in a larval form, and not from eggs released into the water column. The females of this species actually have a lot more eggs than the other rockfish and can have up to 1.9 million eggs inside of them at a time. Coo-ool. Of course, many of the larva don’t survive, assuming the female even lives to reproduce.

So, if eating poisonous, threatened, protected fish doesn’t appeal to you, then you want to look out for Rock cod, Pacific snapper, red snapper and Pacific Ocean perch, all of which are just different market names for rockfish. (There aren’t even any snapper on the U.S. west coast.) And once again, kudos to Safeway for taking red snapper out of their stores.

Canary rockfish

Look me in the eye when I'm talking to you! And please don't eat me. Canary rockfish image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.