Black Rockfish Conservation

A Vancouver Aquarium conservation team led by Dr. Jeff Marliave has been trying to re-establish black rockfish along the shorelines of West Vancouver.  Once abundant in the area, the species was overfished in the mid 1900’s and virtually disappeared locally, Dr. Marliave explained to me this morning.

The team transplanted 200 rockfish yearlings to rock clusters off Point Atkinson in 1997, and additional maturing fish were added in 2004 and 2005. 

cc Vancouver AquariumRecently, Aquarium researchers have found babies in the nursery habitat as well as several different year classes of rockfish offspring.  2006 apparently was a strong year, in which a higher number of fish larvae survived.  Although the rockfish breed every year, the larvae is so tiny many don’t survive.  That’s why conservation has to be long term.

Rockfish are an important part of the marine ecosystem.  Whereas most types of rockfish specialize in what they eat, the black rockfish helps to keep a balance by preying on different parts of the marine community, says Dr. Marliave.  “When you start losing species from an ecosystem the whole system gets fragile.”

Point Atkinson LighthouseOne key to success for the black rockfish is that the Aquarium staff had good historical data.  The area “was a known ideal habitat with piled boulders on different ledges at different depths over a very deep rocky reef”, Dr. Marliave told me.  Nearby is ideal nursery habitat.  “It’s an ideal little cosmos and there’s a nice back eddy in this cove, so that will retain a lot of larvae,” Dr. Marliave commented. Both the adult and the nursery habitat has to be protected.

beach fishingYou can help improve the black rockfish’s chances for success.  “It’s not legal to take either ling cod or rockfish around Vancouver because they are just too depleted,” Dr. Marliave explained.  So if you ever see someone jigging (that’s still fishing) anywhere in the Howe Sound/Vancouver area, report them to the Observe, Record and Report program.  While it’s okay for people to be in a boat and trolling for salmon, some people deliberately try to catch a ling cod or rockfish, and should be reported.  “You can’t really fish for ling cod without catching rockfish,” Jeff said. “

If you want to see some Black Rockfish, cohorts of the transplanted fish are on display in the Pacific Canada Display, the Vancouver Aquarium’s largest display tank.

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Alison Wheatley

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