Alaskan Rockfish: Nutrition, Taste & Sustainability

Alaskan Rockfish: Nutrition, Taste & Sustainability 

Fisherman holding Alaskan Rockfish

While their name might conjure up images of fish with a rock-like appearance, they’re actually some of the most colorful and diverse fish that call Alaska home. Let’s get to know these special fish by diving into the nutrition and taste of Alaskan rockfish, as well as answering the question, are rockfish sustainable? 

What’s a Rockfish?

Not only do they have a striking bright yellow-orange, red, green, striped, or splotched appearance, but rockfish are also some of the oldest fish on earth. Some rockfishes in the Gulf of Alaska are estimated to be at least 200 years old!

So, what exactly is a rockfish?

The general term is used to reference more than 100 species in the fish subfamily of Sebastidae. So then, what kind of rockfish are in Alaska? Generally referred to as rockfish, snapper, or cod, Alaska is home to at least 33 species of rockfish. The most commonly found Alaskan rockfish types include Pacific Ocean Perch, Northern Rockfish, and Dusky Rockfish. 

The diversity in names is fitting, because each species lives in a slightly different manner. While the name ‘rockfish’ suggests that they all live under rocks, this is only the case for some species. Others enjoy shallow coastal waters, while some prefer deeper regions of the ocean. 

There’s one thing that’s consistent across all types of rockfish. They’re delicious! (More on this later.)

Life Cycle & Migration 

Regardless of what type of ecosystem they prefer, you can find rockfish in intertidal water in the North Pacific, South Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. While some species—like those along the Atlantic Coast—migrate, most could be considered homebodies! Many species only travel short distances, if at all. While they may be sedentary, they’re designed for survival—which is also evident in their reproduction strategies. 

Far more complex than many other fish species, rockfish have specific strategies to help ensure that their young survive. Whether they produce upwards of 1,000,000 eggs at a time like some species, or much fewer, all fertilization happens internally. The reproduction process typically doesn’t begin until the female rockfish is around 15-25 years old, and may actually continue to become more productive as the female ages. 

Rockfish are live bearers, meaning they give birth to a larvae the size of a single eyelash! As could be expected, these tiny rockfish are perfect for a tasty treat for organisms that eat zooplankton, and require constant protection from their mothers. Research has suggested that older mothers give birth to stronger, more resilient larvae—helping them withstand threats from predators like lingcod, sharks, octopus, and adult rockfish. 

Rockfish Dietary Habits and Harvesting Season

Yes, like many other aquatic species, rockfish can and do eat their young. They also eat plankton, fish, crabs, shrimp, jellyfish, and algae. They’ve got a large mouth and a jutting lower jaw that allows them to eat larger fish.  

On the other end of the food chain is us, another rockfish predator! A prized fish for both commercial and recreational fishermen, rockfish has been an extremely valuable catch throughout the years. Initially harvested by Alaska Natives, remains of rockfish have been found in a 9,000-year-old archaeological site off the state’s coast. 

The once essential food source for Native Alaskans has now become a tasty food source in the U.S. and provides more than 1,300 jobs to Alaskans. Because of the tremendous species diversity, different varieties of rockfish are harvested year-round in Southeast Alaska, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Bering Sea. While it might always be rockfish season, there are several practices in place to make it a sustainable rockfish season. 

Is Rockfish Sustainable?

Between their long, slow reproduction and appeal to eaters everywhere, rockfish are vulnerable to overfishing. In recreational rockfish fishing’s hay day from the 1960s to 1990s, several populations were impacted and some species numbers declined by 98%. Fortunately, collaborative efforts and fishing closures were established, revitalizing populations and once again returning rockfishes to a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. 

Now, nearly all Alaska rockfish are certified by either the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Alaska Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM). In fact, rockfish are connected to some of the most restrictive limits on the Pacific Coast—and they’re working! For years, the comeback of rockfish populations has been worth celebrating for those in the sustainable seafood world. 

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, Pacific Ocean Perch (one of Alaska’s most abundant species of rockfish) is considered a ‘best’ choice because fisheries are managed well and support healthy stocks. Even better, because of adjustments in fishing methods, trawlers are more capable of avoiding hotspots containing other species. This means that rockfish bycatch numbers are down 75% in recent years! 

Nutrition & Taste

Blackened Rockfish on a plate

Now for the tasty questions: are Alaskan rockfish good to eat? What does Alaska rockfish taste like? 

If you’re a seafood lover, you’ve likely already eaten rockfish, but it was probably served to you as snapper or perch. Rockfish has a mild, slightly-sweet flavor, making it a delicious clean-tasting fish. It’s easy to incorporate into many dishes, like grilled rockfish (when grilled whole), baked rockfish, or even raw rockfish. It’s ideal for deep-frying, making it a good choice for fish and chips, fish tacos, or Asian recipes requiring white fish

Rockfish is a great source of protein and is low in saturated fat. A 5-ounce serving also contains the daily recommended value of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and a decent amount of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Rockfish is also high in vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and choline. 

A recent study found that many species of rockfish have mercury levels at similar or lower levels than other types of commonly-consumed seafood. It joins Alaskan salmon as being a fish associated with least mercury.  

Wrapping Up Rockfish

Even if you’ve been living under a rock, you now know that Alaskan rockfish joins Alaskan halibut and salmon as a sustainable, nutritious, and oh-so delicious seafood choice. What are you waiting for? Incorporate Alaskan rockfish in your next #tacotuesday celebration! Be sure to tag us (@alaskansalmon_) in your mouth-watering photos! 

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