Rockfish Populations Rebound After Strict Management Decades Ahead of the Expected Date

Recent rockfish stocks up and down the California waters have rebounded completely after regulations were placed on them in the 2000s.

This year many of these stocks are declared “rebuilt,” and new regulations implemented by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reflect this abundance, including being able to go further out to sea to drop your line.

For sport and hobby fishermen, the rockfish, with its succulent taste and vibrant vermillion color, is a true trophy fish.

“Of the eight stocks that were declared overfished in the early 2000s, all but one, yelloweye rockfish, has been declared rebuilt today,” said CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Caroline McKnight, according to Recordnet.

Rockfish are part of a family called sebastidae, which contain finned bottom-dwellers that include species considered demersal and benthic fish. These are also known as groundfish, and the genus sebastes are sometimes called rockfish because they’ve been known to hide among rocks.

“Rebuilding these stocks required collaboration between a lot of different people, from fishermen to scientists to environmentalists,” said Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) Chair Marc Gorelnik in a statement.

“It was a tough process, but in rebuilding these stocks, we also built long-lasting, valuable relationships. Responsible fisheries management requires sacrifices, but it pays off. This is a really hopeful story.”

Decades in the making

All the way back in 1999, the PFMC analyzed the populations of 288 specific species out of 600 that were of commercial value and environmentally biodiverse, and began to place stringent measures to combat overfishing.

MORE: Porpoises Rebound in a Big Way Following California Ban on Indiscriminate Fishing Nets

Large area closures, low annual catch limits, quotas, and harvest guidelines, gear modifications, retention prohibitions or limitations, and adaptive management practices were all used over a period of two dcades, demonstrated a study published in Nature Sustainability, to dramatically improve the fish stocks all across the Pacific coast.

Nine of the ten Pacific coast groundfish stocks that were declared depleted or overfished when they began are now rebuilt, and the one that’s left, yelloweye rockfish, has already been subject of a management plan and is steaming ahead towards restoration faster than anyone expected, according to a recent stock analysis.

RELATED: Salmon Spawning for the First Time in 80 Years in the Upper Columbia River

“Rebuilding these overfished stocks was a painful process for West Coast fishermen,” said Pacific Council Executive Director Chuck Tracy. “This study shows that their short-term sacrifices paid off in the long run, leading to more sustainable fisheries for future generations.”

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