I am only 43 years old, but I am one of the few in my generation that
knows what the good old days were like for rockfishing in California and
As soon as I was 5, Dad was taking me both rockfishing from both the shore and from a boat. I was lucky enough to fish in Southern Oregon, just 25 miles north of the Califonia border in the late 1960's and got to see first hand what a steady state rockfish population was all about. Back then, rockfish were everywhere. When we ventured into the ocean, you seemingly couldn't keep them off your hooks. Fishermen looking for salmon purposely stayed a good distance away from kelp beds for fear that those over abundant rockfish would find there bait.
So it seemed, rockfish were an infinite resource. The average black rockfish was about 4-6 pounds, although folks caught them to over 7 pounds at times. I even remember a 9 pounder being taken. When fishermen tried for larger rockfish in water 60 feet or deeper, they ended up catching huge goldeneye rockfish up to 22 lbs. Folks had no idea back then that these fish were 50 plus years old.
Anyhow, today over 30 years later only a fraction of the rockfish population is to be found and the majority that remain are a lot smaller (mainly 2 lb blacks and blues). And the days of catching mature yelloweye rockfish in 80 feet of water are long gone, probably forever.
A similar story has played out here in California, but over a longer period of time.
The good old days of California rockfishing were definitely pre-1960, but when I entered the ocean in 1974 as a freediver, there were still good numbers of rockfish. Plenty of blacks, blues, and olives to be found.
As a freediver, I get to take a visual census of how the rockfish populations are doing every time I dive. It's not hard to see the trends. The size of the average rockfish is way down which is an indication of overfishing. The number of rockfish you would expect to see hanging around kelp beds is drastically down. I suspect that California's rockfish population in the nearshore reef areas (100 feet or less) where I dive in Monterey, Sonoma and Mendocino counties is down 80% from their steady state levels.
What's really troubling is that in recent years, the nearshore reef area has become the target of the commercial live rockfish fisherman. On a year to year basis, the decline in the California nearshore rockfish fishery used to be imperceptible, but with the influx of the commercial harvesters which use dozens of hooks per PVC line, the rockfish population has visibly taken taken a sharp drop!
What I believe to be California's most fragile rockfish fishery is now fighting for its life. It's up to all of us to save the remaining rockfish before they're gone. Please stop the commercial rockfishing of our nearshore areas as Washington State has done.
Save the rockfish!