Genetic and morphological identification of pelagic juvenile rockfish collected from the Gulf of Alaska

Arthur W. Kendall, Jr., Christine Kondzela, Zhuozhuo Li, David Clausen, and Anthony J. Gharrett

Pelagic juvenile rockfish (Sebastes spp.) collected in surveys designed to assess juvenile salmonids and other species in the Gulf of Alaska in 1998 and 2000–2003 provide an opportunity to document the occurrence of the pelagic juveniles of several species of rockfish. Often, species identification of rockfish is difficult or impossible at this stage of development (~20 to 60 mm), and few species indigenous to Alaska waters have been described. Use of mitochondrial DNA markers for rockfish species allowed unequivocal identification of ten species (S. aleutianus, S. alutus, S. borealis, S. entomelas, S. flavidus, S. melanops, S. pinniger, S. proriger, S. reedi, and S. ruberrimus) in subsamples from the collections. Other specimens were genetically assignable to groups of two or three species. Sebastes borealis, S. crameri, and S. reedi were identified using morphological data. Combining genetic and morphological data allowed successful resolution of the other species as S. emphaeus, probably S. ciliatus (although S. polyspinis cannot be totally ruled out), and S. polyspinis. Many specimens were initially morphologically indistinguishable from S. alutus, and several morphological groups included fish genetically identified as S. alutus. This paper details the characteristics of these pelagic juveniles to facilitate morphological identification of these species in future collections.

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