MPAs: Rockfish’s Best Friend

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There are 29 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) on the Central Coast alone. An MPA is an ecosystem or area of the ocean that has been set aside to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. By limiting or restricting the take of marine animals and plants in these areas, we can protect the ecosystem as a whole.

13kelpRockfishChadOne beneficiary of the MPAs in the Monterey Bay is rockfish. There are more than 100 species of rockfish. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors, and live in many different habitats, including rocky reefs and seafloors in shallow waters.

Rockfish are one of the longest-living fishes, possibly living to 200 years old in the Gulf of Alaska. According to the experts at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, that means a rockfish on today’s dinner menu could have been swimming the sea when Abraham Lincoln was delivering his Gettysburg Address.

Speaking of dinner menus, rockfish are identified by different names in different places. At some restaurants, they’re known as “Pacific bass,” in others, “rock cod” or “Pacific red snapper.” On the East Coast, many people call striped bass “rockfish.” Seafood mislabeling is a highly controversial issue as American consumers become increasingly adamant about knowing what they are consuming and where their food comes from.

calico-rockfishRecently, rockfish has been in the news for rebounding from extreme low numbers in the 1990s. The comeback is a result of tightened fishing restrictions and a reduction in the number of commercial trawlers raking the ocean bottom in pursuit of rockfish.

MPAs are largely responsible for these restrictions and increased awareness.

According to the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, “Reproductive potential for black-and-yellow rockfish inside two small reserves in Monterey Bay was two times greater in one reserve and 10 times greater in the second, as compared to fished areas immediately outside the reserves. Even a relatively new reserve (the Big Creek State Marine Reserve, established in 1994) appears to have significantly greater size distributions of several economically important rockfishes.”

What can we take away from the rockfish example? Marine Protected Areas can do wonders for marine life, particularly those species that are threatened by things like overfishing and bottom trawling. If we give these species a safe space to grow and reproduce, even the most depleted ones can have the opportunity to bounce back.

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