Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff will hold Rockfish Day, a rockfish education event, from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Homer Harbor Boathouse to share information about the life history of rockfish. They also will demonstrate Deepwater Release Mechanisms (DRMs) to provide public awareness for rockfish harvest and release in Alaska.
“About five years ago, ADF&G started a statewide rockfish initiative,” said Homer biologist Jan Rumble. “We felt like we needed some overarching management tools for rockfish. There’s a lot of funding that goes towards salmon research and management, but not rockfish, yet. Both sport and commercial divisions decided to get together and figure out where the data gaps are in the different regions of the state. One of the components of the study also includes increasing community outreach and that’s how we decided to host the short event.”
In a report filed with the ADF&G initiative, there are five components identified for why rockfish need more attention. These include: an increased harvest and reduction of bag limits in most state regions, a decreased abundance of halibut and king salmon that puts more pressure on other fish species, an extended life history of more than 60 years that makes the species more vulnerable to overharvest, no current overarching ADFG rockfish management, and declines in rockfish in the Pacific Northwest.
“We want to improve general awareness of rockfish status and to reduce harvest,” Rumble said. “With declines in other species, we’ve seen an increased interest in sport fishing, especially for rockfish in the recent past. So, we’re putting some more effort into this field with some more stock assessment, reconstructed harvest history and working to better understand if we’re in any jeopardy of losing sustainability in the various species.”
In April, ADF&G put out an announcement to reduce harvest limits effective May 15.
“ADF&G is reducing the rockfish bag and possession limits in Cook Inlet and North Gulf Coast/Resurrection Bay salt waters to three per day (and) six in possession, of which only one per day two in possession can be nonpelagic,” the announcement read.
Nonpelagic rockfish are bottom-dwelling species found on or near the ocean floor and are extremely long lived, according to an ADF&G guide sheet. Species include quillback, copper, silvergray, tiger, yelloweye and China Rockfish. The flyer is available at the Homer ADF&G office for interested anglers.
The April announcement also explains that “in recent years, the harvest of rockfish in Cook Inlet and the North Gulf Coast has increased substantially. On average, from 2019 through 2022, the total rockfish harvest was over 50,000 fish annually, which is over a 300% increase from the historical (2006-2013) average.”
There is also a commercial rockfish fishery in this region, but 95% of the harvest is by sport.
“We secured a grant to get these Deepwater Release Mechanisms, which are required to be aboard sport fishing boats,” Rumble said. “It’s a way to relieve barotrauma, injury by change in pressure from bringing fish from deep water to the surface. DRMs can reverse this and be up to 95% effective. So, with the reduced bag limit, having this mechanism to put a fish back that you’re not going to keep can be critical.”
The DRMs will be available for handout to attendees at the event on Saturday. Staff and biologists from the local office will be there to demonstrate how to use the devices.
“We just want the public to be more aware of how they can be a solution to overharvest issues,” Rumble said.