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Ecosystem Science for Endangered and Threatened Rockfish in Puget Sound

Interdisciplinary and cooperative research to measure progress towards recovery and delisting of endangered and threatened species.

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Captain Jay Field and NOAA biologist Kelly Andrews with juvenile yelloweye rockfish.

In 2010, we listed Yelloweye Rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus) and Canary Rockfish (S. pinniger) as 'threatened' and Bocaccio (S. paucispinis) as 'endangered' in Puget Sound, WA under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to large decreases in their abundance over the last 50 years. We determined that each species met the criteria to be considered a distinct population segment defined under the ESA. 

Listing these species as 'threatened' and 'endangered' led to changes in commercial and recreational fisheries regulations in the Puget Sound region. The ESA determination also led to the development of the Rockfish Recovery Plan to measure these species' path toward recovery. 

 

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Image of captain with a Canary rockfish collected in Puget Sound, WA.
Captain Gary Krein with adult canary rockfish.

In collaboration with regional, state, Canadian and tribal agencies, we set out to understand more about these rockfish species. We relied heavily upon the local expertise, knowledge, and collaborations with the recreational fishing community for our subsequent research to address the Recovery Plan's priorities. 

We opened good lines of communication and built trust in science by working cooperatively with anglers on the data collection and analysis. This investment in cooperation improved the decision-making process for rockfish conservation and management in the Puget Sound region. Ultimately, these efforts led to the first delisting of a marine fish species from the federal endangered species list.  

Our Research

Science leading to ESA listing of rockfish

  • Historical commercial and recreational fishing for rockfish in Puget Sound. 
  • Assessing the size of a rare population with very limited data. 

Science leading to recovery and delisting rockfish

  • Comparing the genetics of Puget Sound populations to Outer Coast populations. 
  • Testing whether some bait types can reduce bycatch of rockfish in popular fisheries.
  • How will we know when rockfish in Puget Sound have recovered?

Cooperative and citizen science on rockfish

  • Cooperative rockfish research with Washington anglers.
  • Fishing on a boat together.
  • Citizen science and formal science surveys to measure young-of-year rockfish.

Fundamental rockfish research

  • Testing the connectivity of rockfish populations based on larval dispersal. 
  • Spatial patterns of movement for canary and yelloweye rockfish. 
  • Relative importance of pelagic, kelp forest and eelgrass habitats to rockfish.