Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
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Species Database

Sebastes pinniger - Canary rockfish

Canary rockfish image

Geographic range:

Western Gulf of Alaska to northern Baja California, Mexico

Key features:

White line along lateral line, orange-yellow color, and white edges of pelvic and anal fins.

Similar species:

Sebastes miniatus -- Vermilion rockfish


bay (rocky shore), Continental shelf, continental slope, exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore, seamount, submarine canyon

Primary common name:

Canary rockfish

General grouping:

Bony fishes

ITIS code:


Geographic Range

Range Description:

Shelikof Strait in Western Gulf of Alaska to Punta Blanca and Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. Usually from British Columbia to central California.

Intertidal Height

Lowest intertidal height:

meters OR feet

Highest intertidal height:

meters OR feet

Subtidal Depth Range

Minimum depth:

0 meters OR 0 feet

Maximum depth:

838 meters OR 2749 feet


bay (rocky shore), Continental shelf, continental slope, exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore, seamount, submarine canyon

Habitat notes:

Associate with sand-rock interface as YOY, but adults can be found over sandy areas as well as high-relief rocky habitat. Juveniles move to deeper waters, and divers observe adult canary at depths usually below 25 m.


Relative abundance:

Uncommon in kelp forests, except as YOY during the spring and summer.

Species Description

General description:

Young of the year (YOY) are very different in appearance from adults. YOY (4-6 cm) have a pale cream to white background color, with some tan saddles and bright white splotches. There is also an obvious and large jet-black blob on the dorsal fin, which covers much of the last 5 to 6 spines near the base. After 6 cm or so, the lateral line becomes an obvious and distinct white stripe, the background color is mostly white and the blotches are more golden and light copper colored. Even at this size the white edging along the base of the pelvic and anal fins is bright and apparent.

Adult canary rockfish are usually orange or yellow in appearance. This is due to colored spots and speckles covering much of the body, which is actually white or light cream. The very bright, white stripe along the lateral line extends from the tail fin up to the gill. A stripe slants downward from the eye to the gill. The white edges of the pelvic and anal fins are striking.

Distinctive features:

Orange or yellow fish with dense speckling that can almost appear solid. White line along lateral line extends from fin to head. Pelvic fins are angular and sharp rather than rounded (rear edge); the similar looking vermilion rockfish has rounded pelvic fins.


To 76 cm
Up to 6.7 kg

Natural History

General natural history:

Canary rockfish are striking in appearance, both as YOY, juveniles and adults. This species can live up to 84 years and females attain larger size than males. Maturation occurs at about 40 cm and females release hundreds of thousands of young from November to March.

Adults in deeper waters can be found in schools, sometimes mixed with other rockfishes, including similar-looking species such as vermilion and yelloweye rockfish.


In the 20th century the most significant predator has been humans.


YOY feed in plankton and crustaceans in the water column. Amphipods and shrimp are a common part of the diet, and as they age they add more fish to the diet.

Feeding behavior


April - July


Young of the year (YOY) recruit from April to July. When they settle out, usually at about 4 cm, they tend to remain near the rock-sand interface. Their pale color as YOY allows them to blend in with the sandy bottom, but nearby rock provides small crevices and cracks as a refuge from predators.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary:

From the CDFW web site (Sept 2015):
Yelloweye rockfish and canary rockfish are federally designated "overfished" species, which means that less than 25 percent of their estimated pre-fishery population now exists. Each year, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) sets harvest limits for overfished species based on the respective stock assessments and rebuilding plans.

CDFW has two challenging goals to meet every year: 1) to ensure that harvest limits for overfished species are not exceeded, and 2) to allow groundfish fishing opportunities for the public. In 2007, the California recreational fishery significantly exceeded its annual harvest limits for yelloweye rockfish and canary rockfish, resulting in early fishery closures.

Anglers can help to reduce the total harvest of canary rockfish and yelloweye rockfish and increase fishing opportunities by: handling fish that are to be released properly, reporting catches and encounters to samplers accurately,abiding by all fishing regulations, and being able to distinguish prohibited species. Misidentifications, such as yelloweye and canary rockfishes being mistaken for "healthy" species like vermilion rockfish, lead to a higher total harvest of these overfished species. Overall, anglers need to minimize their contact with yelloweye and canary rockfishes so as not to exceed the harvest limit.

Listing Status:

NMFS declared the species overfished.
Click on an image below to view a larger version in the SIMoN Photo Library. You will also be able to view important information on each photo such as photographer, date, caption and more.
Butler, J.L., M.S. Love, and T.E. Laidig. 2012. A guide to the rockfishes, thorny heads, and scorpionfishes of the northeast Pacific. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. 185 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.