Distribution and co-occurrence of rockfishes (family: Sebastidae) over trawlable shelf and slope habitats of California and southern Oregon


Williams, Erik H., and Stephen Ralston
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The rockfishes of the sebastid genus Sebastes are a very important fishery resource off the coasts of California and southern Oregon. However, many of the 54 managed stocks of west coast rockfish have recently reached historically low population levels, leading fishery managers to reexamine current management practices. Management of rockfish stocks as multispecies aggregates, as opposed to independent stocks within the ground- fish fishery, can be more desirable when nontargeted bycatch, discard, and management complexity are considered. Rockfish assemblage structure and species co-occurrences were determined by using data from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center triennial continental shelf bottom trawl survey. The weight of rockfish species in trawl catches was expressed as a catch-per-unit-of-effort (CPUE) statistic, from which species spatial distributions, overlaps, diversity, and richness were analyzed. Multidimensional scaling of transformed CPUE data was employed in indirect gradient and multivariate partitioning analyses to quantify assemblage relationships. Results indicated that rockfish distributions closely match the bathymetry of coastal waters. Indirect gradient analysis suggested that depth and latitude are the principal factors in structuring the spatial distributions of rockfish on trawlable habitat. In addition, four assemblages were identified through the joint evaluation of species’ distributions and multivariate partitioning analyses: 1) deep-water slope; 2) northern shelf; 3) southern shelf; and 4) nearshore. The slope, shelf, and nearshore groups are found in depth ranges of 200–500 m, 100–250 m, and 50–150 m, respectively. The division of northern and southern shelf assemblages occurs over a broad area between Cape Mendocino and Monterey Canyon. The results of this analysis are likely to have direct application in the management of rockfish stocks off the coasts of southern Oregon and California.