Did you know that some yelloweye rockfish
that are here today were Washington residents before it became a
state in 1889? They have been and continue to be an important
part of our heritage.
Halibut and bottomfish fishing have also
been a part of Washington’s culture for hundreds of years. Many
generations of fishermen have relied on halibut and bottomfish
for food and recreation.
A recent stock assessment indicates that
the yelloweye rockfish population has declined over 80% from its
initial level. As a result, immediate action must be taken if
the stocks of these long-lived fish are to be rebuilt.
To rebuild yelloweye rockfish populations,
the harvest opportunities for this species must be severely
curtailed. In recent years, the Pacific Fishery Management
Council has set yelloweye rockfish harvest levels for all
commercial, recreational, and tribal fisheries combined for
California, Oregon, and Washington of about 17 metric tons (mt).
This number includes yelloweye rockfish that are discarded at
The Washington recreational harvest target
is about 2.7 mt (fewer than 1,000 fish) in coastal waters. To
put this in perspective, in 2001, the Washington recreational
fishery harvested 15 mt.
Yelloweye rockfish, in general, are harvested during the
Washington recreational halibut fishery. If the yelloweye
rockfish catch is projected to exceed 2.7 mt, then Pacific ocean
waters adjacent to Washington outside 25 fathoms will be closed
to recreational bottomfish fishing (including halibut).
If yelloweye rockfish cannot be avoided when anglers are
targeting halibut, then we may have to close recreational
halibut fishing in the future to protect yelloweye rockfish.
Because the yelloweye rockfish stock may not be rebuilt for over
100 years, the problem of managing the yelloweye fishery will
continue through our lifetime; however, you have the ability to
help save the halibut fishery now and preserve the yelloweye
resource for the future.
Live to be 120 years old
Range extends from Mexico to Alaska
Found in deeper, rocky bottom areas
Slow growing,low productive species
Reddish-orange in color with bright yelloweye
Commonly called "red snapper"
Often spend their entire lifetime on one rockpile
How You Can Help
If you are participating in the recreational halibut or
bottomfish fishery, please avoid areas that are known to
have yelloweye rockfish.
If you do accidentally catch a yelloweye, please return
to the water s soon as possible.
Help spread the word to others about the severity of the
yelloweye rockfish depleted population and the possible
consequences of not avoiding yelloweye areas
If you do not know what areas may have yelloweye
rockfish, please consult a local resort, motel, or charter
office or other expert before fishing
Thanksgiving is coming
and so is Christmas. It looks like many will get their wish to catch
crab for both of these occasions with our new crab policy. I hope
everyone can get out and don’t forget to turn in your catch cards after
the season is over.
Many are probably tired
of hearing about rockfish so maybe I should clarify why they are so
important for those that don’t understand. They are important to our
ecosystems and are the pawn used to shut down fisheries all over the
west coast. They are a very slow growing fish that live many years and
some over one hundred years old. Some have to get to 12-14 years old
before they mature enough to spawn. In other words they are slow to
recover. Since the ESA Listing of Yelloweye, Canary, and Bocaccio
listing in the Puget Sound, a recovery plan has to be implemented. This
is what we are working on now. This can effect every fishery in the
Puget Sound depending on what comes out of the recovery plan. Marine
reserves are most likely going to happen which are full blown fishing
I just sat in a meeting
with NOAA wanting to know what we as Puget Sound Anglers can do to help.
We have many ideas on what to do. First NOAA has asked us to help them
find, tag, and clip fins for DNA samples. The DNA samples are a double
edged sword. If we can show that these fishes DNA are very close or
alike in their makeup, possibly we can bring in fish from the ocean to
repopulate the Yelloweye. They cannot find a Yelloweye over 5 pounds in
the sound and only know of a handful. There are no good records for the
Puget Sound to show any of this, Most records are for the ocean. As
conservationists it is our duty to make sure we can help rebuild these
stocks so we can once again fish for them or at least our kids or
grandkids can, depending on how many are found and the method we can use
to rebuild them.
The DNA results could
go the other way and show that we have little pockets of diversely
different fish that would not let us do anything to them. The way
rockfish spawn is that they spew eggs and are fertilized in the same way
and require other fish to be in the area. If we do not have other fish
in the area, then they will not reproduce.
To keep us on the water
during this we have to make sure and write in our rockfish descending
device is on board when fishing the Puget Sound in deeper water. What we
see on the water is that there was a big year class for Black Rockfish (Seabass),
Copper and Quillback rockfish. While these fish are showing signs of
recovery the three listed fish are not. I do not know where we are going
to end up with this recovery plan but it’s better to be at the table in
our decision making than to be “on” the table. As one of NOAAs leaders
told me it is better to be at lunch than to be the lunch.
Last year the Puget
Sound Anglers stepped up and funded Rockfish Descending Devices for the
ocean north coast during halibut seasons. We ordered 300 of Bill
Sheltons Fish Descender devices. Bill and I had talked together about
rockfish Barotrauma for many years as he is in California, and gave us
an extra hundred for free. Taking rockfish back down quickly can save
their lives even if they appear to be dead on the surface. We handed
them out at La Push and Neah Bay. WDFW enforcement said we had a lot
less “floaters” out there this year than in previous years. We also
supplied very good rockfish identification guides. I think this was key
in making sure that we are not misidentifying our fish and putting a
higher kill ratio than actual. We had 2.9 metric tons of Yelloweye last
year available to catch and release, we only caught 2.0 metric tons.
PFMC adopted the use of the descender device for our coastal fisheries.
So now the data for using descending devices gives us a reprieve. I have
the tables for this now and the shallower the fish are caught, the
higher percentage the percentage that live. From 50-100 fathoms
(300’-600’) where most are caught halibut fishing, now are shown to have
a 45% mortality rate compared to 100%. So last year our 2.0 metric tons
catch would be multiplied by 45%, which brings down our 2.0 tons to .9
tons. This is going to change many things. If we can work this right we
can open back up our deep water fisheries using the fish descender
devices in the ocean, such as having a deepwater lingcod fishery again.
Also we should be able to rebuild our Yelloweye and Canary rockfish
populations at a much faster rate.
There are PSA chapters
all over Western Washington that you should be a member of helping
support conservation of our fisheries. We support family fishing and
many chapters haves kids fishing events, derbies, outings, scholarships,
and help with hatcheries and raising salmon to release into the wild.
Please support your local PSA chapter. We understand today’s problems
and are working together for a better tomorrow.