Pacific rockfish in grim shape

Thursday, June 20, 2002
Kathleen Wong
California Academy of Sciences

Pacific rockfish populations have dropped to alarmingly low levels, according to a new report issued by government fishery biologists.

The findings are likely to result in a ban of most bottom fishing off the continental shelf of the West Coast. Known on menus as rock cod or red snapper, the 60 or so species of long-lived fish are declining catastrophically due to a combination of habitat destruction and overfishing.

The Groundfish Management Team report said that despite reduced catches for the past four years or so, the fish have continued to decline. Many rockfish are caught just when they reach their reproductive years, leaving few individuals to perpetuate species that may live for a century or more. And trawling, the practice of dragging nets across the bottom to catch everything in their paths, breaks off the reefs rockfish depend on for shelter. The report recommends setting catch limits for certain species so low that all trawling within the three-mile state waters limit is likely to come to an end; it's not possible to trawl selectively for certain rockfish species.