After years of conservation efforts, populations of two long-lived species of West Coast rockfish have rebounded from overharvesting.
For fishermen and seafood lovers, there is good news about two species of rockfish.
Stocks of bocaccio and the darkblotched rockfish have been rebuilt after years of conservation restrictions to protect populations knocked down by a combination of poor ocean conditions and overfishing.
The actions included major closures of some fishing areas and reductions in the numbers of these fish that could be caught — even accidentally — by commercial fleets. Recreational fishermen also faced reductions in harvests.
Such protections helped to protect the stocks until years when survival rates of young fish improve dramatically for reasons that scientists are still trying to understand.
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“By working together, we’ve brought bocaccio and darkblotched rockfish back to where they will again be part of a sustainable West Coast groundfish fishery” said Barry Thom, regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries West Coast Region, in a statement.
The bocaccio, a rockfish that can grow up to 3 feet in length and live for a half century, was declared to be overfished in the 200-mile federally managed zone back in 1999. The smaller darkblotched rockfish, which can live for more than a century, got the designation in 2000.
Scientists say there is still a lot to learn, including what changes in ocean conditions contributed to the resurgent populations.
“We wish we knew, and that’s one of the questions that has yet to be very well answered for most of our groundfish species,” said Jim Hastie, a Seattle-based NOAA Fisheries official involved with assessing fish stocks.
Both bocaccio and darkblotched give live birth to their young, rather than lay eggs. Year to year, there are huge swings in the number of young that survive to become part of the fishery. And, researchers initially underestimated the extent to which populations could rebound from low levels, according to Hastie.
Three years ago, for example, was a great year for survival rates of young darkblotched rockfish. “The current model says 2013 was twice as big as anything we have seen in the past 30 years,” Hastie said.
Bocaccio also benefitted from several good year classes, when survival rates for young fish improved.
In 2019, this is expected to lead to an easing of restrictions that will make it easier to catch fish.
There are dozens of species of rockfish and other fish harvested in the West Coast groundfish harvests managed through the Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries. Ten species were declared overharvested under federal definitions. With the latest two darkblotched and bocaccio, seven of these fish populations are now considered to be rebuilt.