The “Blue Rockfish” that are common to Oregon’s rocky reefs, and regularly observed in Oregon’s marine reserves, are actually two entirely distinct species: Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinus), and the newly described and named Deacon Rockfish (Sebastes diaconus). This discovery was made by a team of researchers from Oregon State University, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and California State University Los Angeles. Their research demonstrated unique physical and genetic differences between these two species. Prior to his joining the ODFW Marine Reserves Program, Dr. Wolfe Wagman was a part of the team of researchers that identified this new species.
So how do you find a new species after millions of people, including fishermen and researchers, have seen these fish off of Oregon for many years?
“The first suggestion that something was amiss with Blue Rockfish identification stems from Oregon and California’s fish identification posters; the same species looked morphologically different on each,” explains Wolfe Wagman. This observation spurred the research that led to a new species designation.
There is little scientific information about this fairly common species, but the ODFW Marine Reserves Program is working to fill that gap. Currently we have one of the few research programs regularly collecting biological information on the Deacon Rockfish here in Oregon. This work can help scientists and managers better understand the status of Deacon Rockfish populations off of Oregon, helping improve management to ensure their populations remain sustainable for generations to come.
“Our research is integral to better understanding the community dynamics of species that occur both inside and outside the marine reserves, which includes Deacon Rockfish. This information is vital to enhancing our understanding of Oregon’s nearshore ocean,” says Dr. Brittany Huntington, our ecological research lead for the Marine Reserves Program.
In addition to research, the Marine Reserves Program is working to inform people about how to identify this new species.
“There is a lot of confusion because Blue and Deacon Rockfish look similar. To distinguish the two species, the best characteristics to look for are the difference in the body coloration and lower jaw length. Blue Rockfish are blue-green with heavy dark blotches on the sides and Deacon Rockfish are uniformly dark with small speckling across the sides of the fish. Additionally, Blue Rockfish have upper and lower jaws that meet together uniformly. Whereas, the Deacon Rockfish has a protruding lower jaw creating an underbite,” explains Wagman.
“There is a lot of confusion because Blue and Deacon Rockfish look similar. To distinguish the two species, the best characteristics to look for are the difference in the body coloration and lower jaw length.”
– Dr. Wolfe Wagman
With the Fall field season launching this week, the Marine Reserves Program continues its efforts to collect data on Oregon’s nearshore habitats and species, including Deacon Rockfish. There’s plenty more to discover about our ocean ecosystems, so join us as we continue to dive in.