More than 30 different kinds of rockfish are in Alaska waters, though fewer than 10 species are commonly caught by recreational fishermen, mostly in Southeast Alaska. The fish are slow growing and can live well past 100 years.
“ For yellow eye I think the age of first sexual maturity can be anywhere from 15-25 years old. So that has important implications for when these fish are harvested because many of these fish can be caught before they even have the opportunity to reproduce even one time.”
Sam Hochholter is a Sport Fish biologist with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.
The state Board of Fisheries voted last month to protect the fragile fish by requiring in two years that all salt water sport anglers in Southeast to carry devices that release rockfish to the deep. On their trip to the surface, the fishes’ swim bladders expand causing lethal injuries from the rapid decompression.
Ace Calloway is a retired charter skipper from Valdez.
“When you break them out of deep water they don’t have the ability to equalize the pressure and the bladder expands and pushes the eyes out the sockets and stomach out their mouth and it’s a horrible looking site. They basically suffer the same thing a diver does that comes up too fast – what we normally call the bends.”
Studies show that rockfish quickly returned to the depths result in nearly 100 percent survival.
A rockfish release rule has been on the books for charter boats for six years. On average, nearly 60,000 rockfish are caught in the Southeast sport fishery each year; about 5,000 are released.
Fish Board member Robert Ruffner of Soldotna thought the release devices should be required gear right away.
“I kinda considered this as like OK it’s just going to be another piece of gear like your flares and all your other safety equipment. You just have to have the thing on board. I do think it will result ultimately in additional conservation of some very long lived species.”
A state web page called “proper deepwater rockfish release” provides quick and easy techniques on how to make and use simple devices, such as weighted jigs or plastic milk cartons.
Callaway was the first to invent and patent a tool called the Black Tip catch and release recompression tool that sells for under $10.
“ It actually has a pair of jaws that hook onto the lip and takes the fish down. It has a release mechanism that releases the fish at the proper depth.”
The Board voted on a two year delay to allow for more public education and outreach on safely releasing rockfish. Thanks to the assist from KFSK in Petersburg.