Buy Your License Online! Buy Your License Online!

Bottomfish Identification: Rockfish

Yellowtail Rockfish
Sebastes flavidus

Commonly caught by commercial harvesters off the Washington coast and occasionally caught in the Strait of Juan de Fuca by recreational harvesters.  Recreational harvest within Puget Sound has been closed.  See the Sportfishing Regulation Pamphlet.

Description: The body of the yellowtail rockfish is elongate and compressed. The head is rather long with a lower jaw that projects, but not beyond the upper profile of the head.  Underwater the body is dark brown or greenish brown, which fades to white below the lateral line. The sides are finely spotted with yellow and there are a number of pale or bright white blotches just below the dorsal fins. The tail is yellow, while the other fins are dusky yellow.  After capture the body darkens, becoming uniformly olive green, and the blotches fade, however reddish brown speckling is visible on some of the scales. Underwater yellowtail resembles olive rockfish and identification can be somewhat difficult. Some of the distinguishing characteristics of the yellow tail rockfish include a convex (surface curves outward) space between the eyes, the absence of spines on top of the head, a projecting lower jaw, an anal fin with eight (rarely seven) soft rays, and the lining of the body cavity is white.

Maximum Size: To 66 cm (26 in) in length.

Maximum Age: At least 64 years old.

Range/Habitat: Yellowtail rockfish range from Unalaska Island, Alaska, to San Diego, California. Only juvenile yellowtails have been found in Puget Sound.  Older juveniles and adults are usually found over high relief, such as boulders and sheer rock walls, although they are seen rarely over cobble-mud bottoms.  Yellowtails are a schooling fish that sometime swim well off the bottom and in schools of thousands.  They can be found from the surface to 549 m (1,800 ft) in water depth.

Fun Fish Fact: Yellowtail rockfish are unusual among the rockfishes in their ability to quickly release gas from their swim bladders as they ascend through the water column.  This capability prevents fish caught at very deep depths from suffering the same injuries from barotrauma that kill other species.


  • Kramer, D. E., and V.M.  O'Connell, 1995. Guide to northeast Pacific rockfishes: genera Sebastes and Sebastolobus. Alaska Sea Grant College Program, University of Alaska.
  • Love, M. S., M. Yoklavich, and L. Thorsteinson, 2002. The rockfishes of the northeast Pacific. University of California Press.
  • Miller, D. J., and R.N. Lea, 1976. Guide to the coastal marine fishes of California. ANR Publications.

Photos: S. Axtell and V. Okimura