China Rockfish (Sebastes nebulosus)

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


Description and Range

Physical description

The body of the China Rockfish is compact and can be blue or black in color, typically mottled with yellow and some white. The main distinguishing characteristic of this fish is an obvious yellow stripe which starts on the dorsal fin at around the third spine and runs down, diagonally into and along the lateral line. The space between the eyes is concave, the head spines are strong, but the head lacks spines above the eyes.

China Rockfish grow up to 45 cm (18 in) in length and 1.9 kg (4.2 lb) in weight, living for up to at least 79 years.

Geographic range

China Rockfish can be found from Kodiak Island, AK to southern California at depths between 3 m (10 ft) and 128 m (420 ft). They are more common however, between British Columbia and central California, at depths greater than 10 m (33 ft). Chinas almost exclusively prefer rocky habitat with high relief and complexity. Interestingly, China Rockfish have also been seen cohabitating with Giant Pacific Octopus in rock crevices. 

This species is known to have particularly small home ranges while also being territorial. Research conducted off of Vancouver Island showed that they are a relatively sedentary species after they reach adulthood, only moving around 10 m (33ft) from their home.

Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change


The main sensitivity of China 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 China rockfish, leading to higher levels of mortality across various life stages. 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
4.19 lbs Steven Ripley Duncan Rock July 11, 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.