As a scorpionfish, the ocean perch has spines along its back!
Ocean Perch Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Sebastes alutus
Ocean Perch Conservation Status
Ocean Perch Facts
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The ocean perch (Sebastes alutus) is a commercially important fish in the North Pacific. It ranges along the Pacific coasts of the United States, Canada, Japan, and Russia. Distinguishing marks of this moderately-sized marine species include a reddish body and dorsal spines. They are deepwater bottom-dwellers, living at depths up to 2,700 feet.
5 Ocean Perch Facts
- Reddish in color: It’s easy to distinguish these fish because of their dusky or bright reddish color. In fact, alternate names for the species include red perch, red bream, and rose fish.
- A type of scorpionfish: This species belongs to the scorpionfish family, which contains fish famous for their venomous spines. Some of these species are among the most venomous in the ocean. However, despite having dorsal spines, the ocean perch is not known to be harmful to humans.
- Planktivorous: This species is primarily planktivorous, which means both adults and juveniles survive largely by eating krill and other plankton. Adults may also eat small fish from time to time.
- Viviparous: These fish are livebearers, hatching their eggs internally and releasing larvae into the water. This is unusual given that most fish are oviparous (laying eggs that hatch outside the female’s body).
- A tasty food fish: These fish have high commercial value as food fish for their lean meat and delicate flavor.
Classification and Scientific Name
The scientific name for ocean perch is Sebastes alutus. The name Sebastes comes from the Greek word for “august” or “venerable.” Other names for this species include the Pacific ocean perch, Pacific rockfish, red perch, red bream, and rose fish. The genus Sebastes (rockfish) contains 109 species.
The ocean perch is a type of ray-finned fish (class Actinopterygii) belonging to the order Scorpaeniformes. This order goes by the common name “mail-cheeked fishes” due to the presence of the suborbital stay, a bone extension reaching across the cheek to the preoperculum. Within this order, it belongs to the family Scorpaenidae, the scorpionfishes, most of which are venomous to varying degrees.
Ocean perch are laterally compressed fish with an extended lower jaw ending in a prominent knob. Several dorsal spines precede a flat dorsal fin. Though the spines of many scorpionfish are dangerously venomous, this particular species is not known to be harmful to humans.
Adults of this species grow to a maximum length of 20.8 inches (1.7 feet). They weigh anywhere between 1.1 and 4.6 pounds. Their color ranges from light to bright red with dark dorsal and fin markings.
Distribution, Population, and Habitat
Ocean perch inhabit the North Pacific Ocean along the coasts of the United States, Canada, Russia, and Japan. They range from La Jolla, CA, to Cape Navarin in Russia and Honshū, Japan. The species is particularly common around the Aleutian Islands, Canada’s northern British Columbia, and the Gulf of Alaska around the Alaska Peninsula. It occupies the Bering Sea but is absent from the Sea of Okhotsk. In the U.S., it ranges along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California.
Ocean perch are bathydemersal, primarily living along the sea floor below 650 feet. They live at depths as great as 2,700 feet below the surface, though their typical range is between 540 and 960 feet. They inhabit deep waters around the upper continental slope and along the continental shelf, preferring areas with sandy or rocky bottoms and coral. However, larvae and juveniles tend to live closer to the surface until they mature. In the fall, adults migrate to shallower waters where they spawn and live out the winter months.
According to NOAA, there are currently four stocks of Pacific ocean perch. These are located in the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, the Pacific coast, and the southern Pacific coast. Although NOAA Fisheries considered the species overfished along the Pacific coast in 1999, stocks recovered by 2017 thanks to a rebuilding plan. Other stocks do not appear to suffer from overfishing at present. The IUCN does not currently include ocean perch on its Red List.
Evolution and History
The genus Sebastes most likely originated in the northwest Pacific at high latitudes in the middle of the Miocene Epoch (23.03 to 5.33 million years ago) within the Neogene Period. Rockfish fossils from this period include whole-body fossils and otoliths (ear stones or ear bones useful for determining the ages of bony fish). Scientists unearthed these fossils in California and Japan with the exception of a specimen in Germany potentially dating back to the Oligocene Epoch (33.9 to 23 million years ago).
Sebastes’ extant 109 species are widespread, inhabiting the northeast Pacific (over 65 species), the northwest Pacific (27 species), the Gulf of California (seven species), the North Atlantic (four species), and the southern hemisphere (at least two species). Sibling species tend to inhabit proximate geographical regions, suggesting that large-scale vicariance did not occur. This would explain the phylogenic distinctions between Asian and North American species, including Sebastes alutus.
Ocean Perch Predators and Prey
Ocean perch hunt their food along the sea floor at great depths. Though they are predatory, they also have a number of predators.
What Do Ocean Perch Eat?
These fish are primarily planktivorous, meaning they survive mostly on plankton. This includes euphausiids (krill), amphipods, copepods, and mysids, though adults may also eat small fishes. Juveniles typically consume calanoid copepods and euphausiids. Both adults and juveniles may be in competition with walleye pollock for euphausiids as they track daily krill migrations.
What Eats Ocean Perch?
Adults of this species fall prey to sablefish, halibut, and sperm whales. Juveniles are the targets of large bottom-dwelling fish like salmon, lingcod, and other rockfish. Seabirds are also known to pick them off near the surface of the water.
Ocean Perch Reproduction and Lifespan
Unlike most fish, ocean perch are viviparous (livebearers). They migrate to shallower waters to spawn in the fall. Adult males seek out and inseminate adult females during this time. Females of this species produce between 10,000 and 300,000 eggs depending on their size. Fertilization occurs after about two months with the eggs eventually hatching internally. The females then release the larvae into the water in April or May.
Though data is uncertain, scientists believe the larvae to be pelagic, floating with ocean currents until they mature. This maturation may begin as soon as the first year of life, culminating in migration to deeper waters near the continental shelf by the age of three. These fish grow slowly, typically mating for the first time at the age of ten. They are also incredibly long-lived with the oldest individual on record living as long as 103 years.
Ocean Perch in Fishing and Cooking
The ocean perch is a commercially significant species in the North Pacific. According to NOAA, commercial landings for 2021 came to 138 million pounds with a total value of over $20 million. Fisheries use both pelagic and bottom trawls to catch these fish.
The flesh of this species is lean with finely flaked meat and a relatively firm texture. It is an excellent source of selenium, phosphorus, and vitamin B12. The process of cooking changes the white raw flesh to an opaque white. The taste is delicate and nutty. Nutritional information for 100 grams of raw ocean perch is as follows: 94 calories, 18.62 grams of protein, 1.63 grams of fat, and 75 milligrams of sodium.
Appropriate cooking methods for this species include baking, panfrying, broiling, and searing. Check out this article for a list of 14 different recipes.
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Ocean Perch FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Where are ocean perch found?
These fish inhabit the North Pacific Ocean along the coasts of the United States, Canada, Japan, and Russia.
Are ocean perch good to eat?
These fish make excellent food fish with a delicate flavor and lean meat.
Are ocean perch healthy?
Ocean perch are healthy food fish. They are low in fat and rich in nutrients like selenium, phosphorus, and vitamin B12.
Is the ocean perch an endangered species?
The IUCN does not currently include this species on its Red List. According to NOAA, stocks throughout the world appear to be stable.
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- FishBase, Available here: https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Sebastes-alutus.html
- FossilWorks, Available here: http://www.fossilworks.org/cgi-bin/bridge.pl?a=taxonInfo&taxon_no=35916
- Government of Canada, Available here: https://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/profiles-profils/pac-ocean-perch-sebaste-a-longue-machoire-eng.html
- Hyde, John R.; Vetter, Russell D., Available here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17320419/#:~:text=The%20clock%2Dcalibrated%20data%20suggest,NP)%20in%20the%20late%20Miocene.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Available here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/pacific-ocean-perch#overview
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Available here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/alaska/population-assessments/pacific-ocean-perch-research-alaska
- ScienceDirect, Available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/rockfish
- Wonderful Cook, Available here: https://wonderfulcook.com/ocean-perch-recipes/