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widow rockfish

The widow rockfish (Sebastes entomelas) was called buda by the Monterey (California) fishermen in the 1880s, and was known as beccafico (Italian bird) and viuva (widow) by others prior to the 1930s. Brownie, belinda bass, brown bomber, and soft brown are among the modern names used for the widow rockfish. Two Greek words meaning "within" and "black" comprise the name entomelas, which refers to the black-lined gut cavity of the widow. When seen underwater, the widow appears brownish, brass, or sometimes orange. Newly spawned widows are light brown or orange. Reddish spots may appear on juveniles that rest on the seafloor. Dusky or dark saddle patches may be present on widows, which fade after capture. The widow is has reduced head spines and is a relatively slim rockfish. Compared to the similar squarespot rockfish, the more active-behaving widow is distinguish by having shinier skin and a snout that is steeper and sharper. Widows are known to reach lengths of 23.6 in. (59 cm).

Widows are found between the western Gulf of Alaska and northern Baja California, at depths ranging from 80 ft. to 1,812 ft. (24-549 m). Adult sightings are rare in southern California. Widows are most abundant from British Columbia to northern California, at depths between 462 ft. and 693 ft. (140-210 m). Juveniles are sometimes seen around the surface and have been spotted in large groups around San Miguel and San Nicolas Islands off southern California. The young are also found in or around kelp fields, and as deep as 462 ft. (140 m). Both juveniles and adults often exist in large schools and are found over high-relief strata and near cobblestone, well above the seafloor. Less often, adults are know to be solitary. Schooling behavior and depths vary depending on geographic area and time of day. Newly spawned widows feed on krill and copepods, while older species feed in the water column on gelatinous zooplankton, crab, some amphipods, krill, and small fishes. Chinook salmon and northern fur seals feed on the young widows.

One brood of 95,000 to 1,113,000 eggs are produced by female widows per year. The eggs of the widow are cream-colored, which differs from most rockfishes, whose eggs are orange. The season of larval release occurs earlier in the southern parts of their range than in the northern regions (Dec.-Mar off southern California, Dec.-Apr. off central and northern California, Jan.-Mar. off Oregon, Jan.-Apr., possibly May, off British Columbia.) While male widows grow to maximum length faster than females, the females reach larger sizes, and probably live longer than males. The growth rate for widows is greater off Washington and Oregon than it is off California. Widows are known to live to 60 years or longer.

The widow rockfish fishery grew substantially after 1979. At that time an Oregon trawl fisherman made large midwater trawl catches (31 tons/hr avg.) of widows he had discovered at night around pinnacles off the coast. This caused an increased involvement by others into the widow fishery, boosting the commercial catch over 700% by 1982. Since then the fishery has declined dramatically. Today, from British Columbia to central California, the widows are important to the commercial fisheries and are considered overfished by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Adapted from Love, M. 2002 Sebastes entomelas, p. 172-174. In M. S. Love, M. Yoklavich, and L. Thorsteinson, The rockfishes of the northeast Pacific. Univ. California Press.

widow rockfish

AFSC Rockfish Guide