Copper rockfish (Sebastes caurinus)

Category: Fish
Related species groups: Rockfish
Ecosystems: Marine shorelines
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)


Description and Range

Physical description

Copper Rockfish are moderately deep bodied and range in body color but have several common traits. They can be found in green-brown, dark-brown and copper colors, sometimes ranging into black or even bright red. key shared traits include a clearly defined, lightly colored or white band along the rear two thirds of the lateral line. Coppers also have copper, brown or yellowish bars over a white or lightly colored background emanating from the eyes, extending backwards and down to the underside of the fish which is white. 

Copper Rockfish can be confused for several other species of rockfish including Canary, Quillback, and Brown. Canary share the same type of banding over the lower face and white/gray lateral line segment that Coppers have. These will appear as more of vibrant orange or yellow in Canaries compared to the relatively drab colors of a Copper. 

Identifying a fish as either a Copper, Brown, or Quillback Rockfish can be difficult, especially in Puget Sound where these three species are known to hybridize. One way to separate Coppers from the other two species is to look for the bandings coming from the eye, these will be absent in the other two species. The distinct clear band over the lateral line can also help, but cannot be relied upon in the case of hybrids.

Copper Rockfish can grow up to 66 cm (26 in) in length and 4.5 kg (10 lb) in weight, living up to at least 50 years.

Geographic range

Copper Rockfish range from the northern Gulf of Alaska to central Baja California. They can be found from the subtidal zone down to 183 m (600 ft).

Juveniles spend much of their time around kelp and seagrass beds, living close to the surface if the canopy allows them to. Adults are found in deeper water, typically on sandy bottoms around patches of rock as well as on high relief rocky features. These types of habitat choices mean that Coppers are often seen near Quillback Rockfish, and are also known to cohabitate with Giant Pacific Octopus in their dens.

Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change


The main sensitivity of copper rockfish to climate change is likely to stem from changes to their prey base. Warmer ocean conditions could lead to decreases in prey (e.g., zooplankton) for both juveniles and adults, prompting decreases in adult fecundity and juvenile survival. Additionally, nearshore habitat loss due to sea level rise could impact juvenile survival, as juveniles tend to use nearshore habitat as nursery and foraging area. Deepwater coral habitat, which many adult rockfish use, may also decrease due to acidification, further reducing available habitat. Decreased oxygen levels may have direct physiological effects on rockfish, leading to higher levels of mortality across various life stages; in the past, copper rockfish have exhibited high mortality rates during extreme hypoxic events. Due to their long life cycles and generation times, adults may be able to persist through short term pulses of negative ocean conditions (e.g., years with warmer sea surface temperature), though conversely, their low productivity could make it difficult for populations to recover from climate-related declines.

Confidence: Moderate

Exposure to climate change


  • Increased ocean temperatures
  • Sea level rise
  • Declines in pH
  • Decreased oxygen
Confidence: Moderate


Rules and seasons

Recreational harvest within Puget Sound has been closed.

State record

WeightAnglerLocationDate Caught
10.00 lbs David Northington Point Roberts Reef August 6, 1989

See all sportfish records


This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.
This species is identified as a Priority Species under WDFW's Priority Habitat and Species Program. Priority species require protective measures for their survival due to their population status, sensitivity to habitat alteration, and/or recreational, commercial, or tribal importance. The PHS program is the agency's main means of sharing fish and wildlife information with local governments, landowners, and others who use it to protect priority habitats for land use planning.