“Cool” Fish in Cold Waters


The Rockfishes of the Northeast Pacific. Love, M. S., M. Yoklavich, and L. Thorsteinson . 2002 . University of California Press , Berkeley, CA . 415 pp. $17.47. (paperback) ISBN 0-520-23438-3 .

Perhaps this book should have been titled Probably More Than You Want to Know about the Rockfishes of the Northeast Pacific. This comprehensive book includes a thorough investigation of rockfish species living off the western Pacific coast, from Canada to Mexico. Although at first glance one may fault this book because of its lack of a global approach, approximately 96 species of rockfish are found along the coasts of Alaska to the Gulf of California. In contrast, only 4 species are found in the North Atlantic, 1–2 species in the South Pacific, and 1–2 species in the South Atlantic. Thus, this book addresses approximately 90% of all rockfish species—hardly a limited study.

The authors decided to write this book because they think “rockfish are cool.” Of all people, these three authors have the right to decide the popularity status of fishes of the northeast Pacific. Milton S. Love is an associate research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has studied rockfish in the northeast Pacific for over 30 years. He has also authored several ichthyology books, including the humorous Probably More Than You Want to Know about the Fishes of the Pacific CoastLove 1996 ). Mary Yoklavich leads the Habitat Ecology Team of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service in Santa Cruz. She is well known for her research on reproduction, age, growth, and habitat assessment of West Coast rockfishes. Lyman Thorsteinson is the deputy director of the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle. His primary research includes arctic fish migrations, movements, and habitat uses, and he is currently working on a fish faunal monograph for Alaska. I bet that, by the end of reading this book, you will agree with these authors that rockfish are cool.

The book is divided into three parts: part I discusses the biology of rockfish, part II includes an updated dichotomous key for the northeast Pacific rockfishes, and part III provides detailed species accounts. The book includes a glossary, wonderful maps, numerous color photographs and illustrations, and eight appendices. I especially enjoyed the artwork presented by Ray Troll, who provided fitting illustrations to accompany the insightful details describing rockfish. Amazingly, this remarkable book costs less than U.S.$20.00, primarily because many federal agencies and private companies provided funds to ensure that any student who would like to enter the world of rockfishes could easily afford this book.

Part I is divided into 12 chapters and encompasses such topics as the taxonomic history of rockfish, rockfish worshippers of the past, common names used by fishers around the world, and ecological and biological descriptions including rockfish habitats, recruitment, fisheries, conservation, and parasites ( to name just a few ). Each chapter includes a summary of available data, beautiful photographs and artwork, pertinent figures and graphs, and a quirky sense of humor subtly intertwined with scientific details. Also, references are listed at the end of each chapter, allowing for easy access to the primary data used in the discussions. Unfortunately, the authors run into difficulties when generalizing about the biology of the northeast rockfishes. These fish are amazingly diverse in form, color, habitats, and lifestyles. The paucity of data available for many rockfish species is appalling, especially in light of their severe decline. The authors make a valiant effort to summarize rockfish biology, but many more years of research must be conducted before a thorough understanding of rockfish biology is attained.

Part II presents an updated dichotomous key of rockfishes of the northeast Pacific. Drawing upon the key presented by Miller and Lea ( 1972 ) , the authors include nine rockfish species previously not listed and a dichotomous key for the species Sebastolobus. ( Miller and Lea provided a key to the genus level but then only described the fish at the species level. ) This new, updated key emphasizes using colors and patterns to identify the fish and downplays some of the meristics used in the older key. Perhaps the most useful feature of the updated key is its linking to part III of the book, the species accounts. Once a fish is keyed out to the species level, a page number is listed, referring the reader to more information on this fish in the species account section.

In part III, each species account includes a map and description of a species' range, five to eight color photographs of the species at various ages ( except for rare species ), etymology, colloquial names, the status of its fishery, and taxonomy and systematics. Additionally, details of the fish's biology are described, including coloration underwater and after capture, maximum size, larval settlement and recruitment, substrate and habitat preferences, sexual dimorphic patterns, aging, and diet. Again, the references used to compile this species description are listed at the end of each account.

The remainder of the book is filled with 32 pages of references, detailed maps of the northeast Pacific from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of California, and appendices. In case you are craving more rockfish data yet, the appendices include the following information per species: Von Bertalanffy growth curves; length-weight relationships; conversions between standard, fork, and total lengths; head spine configurations; and meristic measures. Also, the appendices include more references for those in search of more esoteric papers, a list of host parasites, and major rockfish groupings by various fisheries agencies.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in rockfish of the northeast Pacific. Information is presented clearly and simply to be enjoyed by any marine fish enthusiast, but it will be a necessity and a mainstay to any student, educator, or researcher devoted to the rockfish of the northeast Pacific. With its comprehensive species descriptions; detailed discussions of biology, ecology, and evolution; phenomenal illustrations and photographs; and low cost, The Rockfishes of the Northeast Pacific belongs in every natural science library and every marine research vessel on the U.S. West Coast. I only wish it were waterproof and more compact so I could take it underwater with me.