Searching for young of the year rockfish

When you have fish that can live from 80 to 200 years, depending on the species, recovery can be a slow process.

That’s the case with some of the 27 different rockfish (Sebastes spp.) in the Salish Sea. Many species were over-harvested and are now in need of recovery.

One important strategy is protecting the old females who produce copious young. But rockfish don't birth a big crop of babies every year. (Yes, rockfish give birth to live baby fish.) Instead they seem to have periodic "bonus" years when numerous rockfish babies are born. As a result, it is really important to know when these massive birth years of young rockfish occur and understand the type of habitats those juvenile fish need to survive.

SeaDoc is working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, REEF, and others to help NOAA design a citizen-driven project where SCUBA divers can collect data to help us learn more about newborn rockfish, known as "young of the year."

Last month, NOAA project lead Dr. Adam Obaza came up to the San Juans to dive with SeaDoc to test out the new dive protocol. Joe Gaydos, Dr. Obaza, and Jen Olson dove in kelp forests, eelgrass, flat muddy bottom sites and rocky reef sites to look for young rockfish and test out the survey methodology.

Jen Olson, Dr. Adam Obaza & Dr. Joe Gaydos

Jen Olson, Dr. Adam Obaza & Dr. Joe Gaydos

Young rockfish are rare, but we did manage to find one young of the year rockfish - a baby Copper rockfish hanging out in some Laminaria sp. kelp near a rocky shore. As things are with science sometimes, it was in the last few minutes of the last dive of the weekend.

We will keep you posted as NOAA rolls out this volunteer SCUBA opportunity in case you or friends want to be involved.



Banner photo: young of the year Copper rockfish (less than 5cm). Courtesy of Janna Nichols.