The utility and limitations of genetic data for stock identification and management of North Pacific rockfish (Sebastes spp.)

  • Ewann A. Berntson
  • Paul Moran


Rockfishes (Sebastes spp.) represent a speciose and ecologically important group of marine fishes found in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, with approximately 105 species found world-wide (Hyde and Vetter 2007). They also comprise the majority of species found in the Pacific groundfish fishery. Thorough species assessments in terms of harvest management have been done for only 11 species, and of the 11 species, seven have been declared overfished. Having accurate genetic information is critical to the continuing effort at stock assessments, but sampling is often difficult in marine fishes. Genetic techniques are a powerful tool in the effort to better characterize the ecology of these species. These techniques can be used to investigate multiple biological traits, including species identity, intra- and interspecific genetic variation, migration patterns, and effective population size. There are important caveats and limitations when applying specific genetic methods, especially in marine species that lack discrete spawning aggregates. Nevertheless, it is clear from a review of recent literature that genetic tools have already provided very specific insight regarding rockfish population dynamics. The results are diverse and difficult to synthesize; however, existing studies show five primary patterns to population groupings in rockfishes: no obvious pattern of structure, structure consistent with isolation by distance, structure evident but inconsistent with isolation by distance, structure that correlates to oceanographic features, and potential genetic introgression. Clearly the study of rockfish population genetics is poised for rapid expansion that will unquestionably aid management of the rockfish fisheries and general understanding of rockfish evolutionary systematics. A principle challenge at this point is to derive generalized inferences from such a diverse array of study results across the vast North Pacific range of Sebastes. This review summarizes existing genetic studies in Sebastes spp. in the North Pacific to assist in identifying knowledge gaps for this ecologically important and diverse group.


Rockfish Sebastes Genetics Microsatellite 



We thank Drs Michael Ford, Brian Beckman, Linda Park, David Teel, John Hyde, Russ Vetter, and Phil Levin for discussions and comments on early drafts that improved this manuscript substantially. Dr. Jon Hess shared unpublished results and offered insightful discussion. We also thank participants in the workshop, Conservation of North Pacific Rockfishes: Ecological Genetics and Stock Structure who provided the inspiration and motivation for summarizing this diverse and complicated but very interesting field.


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Copyright information

© US Government 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Conservation Biology Division, Northwest Fisheries Science CenterNational Marine Fisheries ServiceSeattleUSA

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