Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
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Species Database

Sebastes carnatus - Gopher Rockfish

Gopher Rockfish image

Geographic range:

Eureka, California to San Roque, Baja California

Key features:

Blotchy color of dark brown on a light cream or white background.

Similar species:

Sebastes atrovirens -- Kelp rockfish
Sebastes caurinus -- Copper rockfish


kelp forest

Primary common name:

Gopher Rockfish

General grouping:

Bony fishes

ITIS code:


Geographic Range

Range Description:

Sebastes carnatus can be found from Eureka, California to San Roque, Baja California.

Intertidal Height

Lowest intertidal height:

0 meters OR 0 feet

Highest intertidal height:

0 meters OR 0 feet

Subtidal Depth Range

Minimum depth:

0 meters OR 0 feet

Maximum depth:

88 meters OR 293.04 feet

Subtidal depth notes:

Sebastes carnatus can be found in and around rocky reefs with caves and crevices from shallow depths to 88 m. However the adults are most abundant from 10 to 40 m.


kelp forest

Habitat notes:

Juveniles recruit into the kelp forest canopy and upon reaching about 5 cm descend to the kelp forest floor.


Relative abundance:

Sebastes carnatus is most common from Mendocino County, California to Santa Monica Bay.

Species Description

General description:

Sebastes carnatus is a solitary reef fishes in the Sebastidae family, shared by all rockfishes, rockcods and thornyheads. The genus name Sebastes means magnificent in Greek and the species name carnatus means flesh-colored in Latin.

Distinctive features:

Sebastes carnatus has a deep, elongate, fusiform body that is colored dark olive-brown or brown with pinkish or white blotches and spots. The top of the head is concave between the eyes and there are five pairs of large head spines. Two brown lines extend backwards from the eyes. The snout is moderately sharp and the lower lip is yellow to orange. The soft dorsal fins are dark olive in color, continuous, deeply notched, and the spiny portion is longer-based with incised membranes. There are 13 total dorsal spines and 12 14 soft rays. There are 3 anal spines and usually 5 7 anal fin soft rays, occasionally 7 10. The caudal fin is slightly rounded.

The black and yellow rockfish, Sebastes chrysomelas, closely resembles Sebastes carnatus. However, Sebastes chrysomelas has a black body with orange-yellow to light yellow blotches and the lower lip is dark gray. Sebastes chrysomelas is also more common in shallower waters.


Sebastes carnatus can grow to a length of 40 cm.

Natural History

General natural history:

Sebastes carnatus is extremely territorial and will exclude Kelp Rockfish, Sebastes atrovirens from bottom territories and Black and Yellow Rockfish, Sebastes chrysomelas, from the deeper portions of its vertical distribution. Maximum age estimates for Sebastes carnatus range from 24 30 years.


Predators on Sebastes carnatus include sharks, dolphins, and seals. They are also a minor part of recreational fisheries and targeted by hook and line commercial fishermen for the market and restaurant live fish trade.


Sebastes carnatus feeds on crustaceans, particularly crabs of the Cancer sp., shrimp and anomurans, and fish, including juvenile rockfish, as well as mollusks. Small Sebastes carnatus eat zooplankton, such as copepods and crab larvae.

Feeding behavior


Feeding behavior notes:

Adult Sebastes carnatusare nocturnal predators that ambush their prey.

March - May


Female Sebastes carnatus becomes mature at a length of about 20.5 cm. These viviparous fish spawn in the spring with young-of-the year first appearing in kelp beds in May and June. At first, they live right among the fronds, later descending down the plant and eventually leaving its protection.
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Boschung, H.T., J.D. Williams, D.W. Gotshall, D.K. Caldwell, and M.C. Caldwell. 1998. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Fishes, Whales and Dolphins. A.A. Knoph, New York, NY. 848 p.
California Department of Fish and Game, Marine Region. 2003. Nearshore Finfish Profiles. World Wide Web electronic publication., Accessed [07/29/06].
Froese, R. and D. Pauly (eds.). 2006 (Updated 01/02/06). FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication., Accessed [04/25/06].
Gotshall, D. 2001. Pacific Coast Inshore Fishes. Sea Challengers, Monterey, CA. 117 p.
Love, M. 1996. Probably more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific Coast. Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, CA. 381 p.