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ADF&G Divisions Working Together on Rockfish Initiative

Yelloweye Rockfish
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
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Adult yelloweye rockfish

Reconciling sport and commercial harvests is the first step in a unified management plan.

There are dozens, maybe scores of different species of rockfish in the Gulf of Alaska. In the North Pacific and the North Atlantic combined, there are over 100 different kinds, and many of them look an awful lot alike.

While there’s one directed commercial fishery out of Cook Inlet for rockfish, they are often caught as bycatch in longline fisheries. And they are a popular fish targeted by blue-water anglers.

Now, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is working to combine information from sport and commercial fisheries to get a better understanding of the Gulf’s rockfish populations. The program is called the Rockfish Initiative.

Jan Rumble is the area management biologist for shellfish and groundfish in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet.

“Issues that we're looking at, and why we formed our group, include a decreased abundance of other popular fish in Alaska waters that has led to increased harvest of some of our rockfish species,” she said.

Rumble said rockfish can have very long life spans, and since the older fish are the more successful reproductively, the stock can be susceptible to overfishing.

“Many of the species of Rockfish can live to be more than 60 years old. So we have this issue and we don't have any overarching rockfish management for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game,” she said. “So these issues are why we formed this initiative to try to solve some of some of our questions.”

Rumble said the initiative will start with two species of rockfish, the yellow eye and the black rockfish.

Martin Schuster is the groundfish sampling supervisor for Fish and Game’s Sportsfish Division in Southcentral Alaska. He said it’s exciting to have both sport and commercial fishery divisions working together to make one plan.

“There’s a lot of steps we’ve taken to reconcile our harvests. For example, so that we have the same spatial areas so that we can look at total removals instead of removals by sector,” Schuster said. “And all this information then feeds in to the stock assessment models that Jan is talking about which will ultimately result in, at least for black and yelloweye rockfish, now being managed together instead of separately, so that we have hopefully an allocation for both user groups that will then be divided and and fished.”

Elisa Russ is the assistant commercial fisheries management biologist for shellfish and groundfish in the area, as well as the port sampling coordinator.

“It’s confidential information that we’re collecting in commercial fisheries, so we’re very careful about all of that. But additionally we're always training the constant turnover of dock crew for these different processors that are buying the fish to identify the Rockfish. So that's like a big huge thing,” Russ said. “I've been in my position for over a decade and that's been something I really have worked hard on and I feel like we've had success. Number one, in communication with the fleet, in having a rapport, and then also with identification of rockfish at the dock.”

And that’s where the large number of rockfish species comes into play, making sorting them on the dock complicated.

“All the fish have to be sorted to species. It doesn't matter how many rockfish species there are, just like salmon, they have to be sorted to the species. It's very critical that we get that speciated properly,” she said. “Everything is weighed separately. Everything is reported on this fish ticket. It immediately goes into this electronic system called eLandings. This database it's actually accessible by both federal and state fishery agencies.”

Fish and Game has got a kind of unique tool to help folks identify whatever rockfish they may haul up: It’s a deck of playing cards, with species-specific information on the many kinds of rockfish that live in our waters. Rumble says they’re available at the local Fish and Game office.