NOAA Fisheries releases draft recovery plan for Puget Sound/Georgia Basin yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio

August 2016

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on its draft recovery plan for yelloweye rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus) and bocaccio (Sebastes paucispinis) in Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia, and the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca (generally referred to as Puget Sound/Georgia Basin). These species were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010. Bocaccio are listed as endangered and yelloweye rockfish are listed as threatened.

The draft recovery plan charts a comprehensive roadmap for recovery of the two long-lived species of rockfish that have declined precipitously in the past several decades. It identifies known threats to the species and specific actions to address those threats, as well as research to help us better understand the current status of yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio and the relative impact of threats to the species.

Bocaccio (Sebastes paucispinis) NOAA photo

Yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio are data-limited species. Therefore, much of the plan is focused on improving understanding of listed rockfish population abundance and demographics, as well as habitat associations. For example, the plan calls for continuation of surveys via remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to assess rockfish abundance and habitat use that are currently in progress.

The plan also outlines specific research and actions to further understand and address the impact of contemporary threats to rockfish, such as bycatch, water quality and habitat degradation, derelict gear, and many other threats. For example, to address bycatch, the plan calls for further assessment of the impact of some fisheries. In areas where there is a high risk of bycatch (the San Juan Islands/eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), the plan recommends beginning the public and scientific process to establish marine reserves or rockfish conservation areas to limit this bycatch.

Yelloweye rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus) Photo: Alaska Department of Fish and Game

The plan does not suggest specific areas for reserves, but it does describe the best available biological and sociological science for establishing areas, as well as tribal treaty rights considerations. The plan emphasizes a science-based, transparent, and inclusive process that involves co-managers and stakeholders from the beginning to establish these areas.

Historical overfishing is the primary cause of rockfish decline in Puget Sound. All rockfish species in Puget Sound have declined by about 70 percent from 1965 to 2007, and yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio have likely declined even more sharply in the same period.

While managers have taken steps to limit some rockfish threats, rockfish are slow growing and take many years to reach reproductive age so recovery is likely to take long-term, sustained effort.

Beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) put into place commercial bans on rockfish fishing in areas where rockfish are currently listed under the ESA. More recently the WDFW closed some commercial fisheries that inadvertently catch rockfish while targeting other species.

The WDFW also placed a moratorium on recreational rockfish catch in Puget Sound, which prohibits targeting or retention of all rockfish, and established a 120-foot (36.6-m) depth limit for bottom fishing to reduce bycatch risk to rockfish in 2010. Despite these measures, yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio rockfish remain vulnerable to bycatch in some areas of Puget Sound/Georgia Basin.

The draft recovery plan recommends approximately 45 different research and recovery actions to promote recovery of yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio and the ecosystems upon which they depend. They include specific actions to protect and restore critical habitat, such as protection and where possible restoration of kelp beds and fishing gear loss prevention and recovery, among other research and actions. Like other habitat protection and species recovery efforts, many actions in the plan may benefit other marine species, as well as to the greater Puget Sound/Georgia Basin ecosystem.

The draft recovery plan is open to comment until November 14, 2016.

More information on rockfish in Puget Sound and this draft plan

Federal Register notice