Bronzespotted Rockfish May Be Seriously Depleted

Bronzespotted rockfish (Sebastes gilli) occur mainly in Southern California waters, in deep rocky habitats similar to those for cowcod (S. levis), a species that is currently under a rebuilding program. During a review of methods for estimating California fish landings, Don Pearson found that commercial landings of bronzespotted rockfish, after rising to a peak of 94 tons in 1982, dropped rapidly and have been about one ton annually since 1990. This trend was confirmed by a severe drop in RecFIN estimates of recreational landings at about the same time.

If the commercial fishing effort estimated for cowcod is used as a proxy index of effort for bronzespotted rockfish (which is a reasonable assumption), the CPUE history indicates that the resource collapsed in the mid-1980s, and the population could be in the worst condition of any groundfish species on the west coast.

Very little is known about this species. Pearson took the initiative to read 38 otoliths from the historical collection kept at the SWFSC Fisheries Ecology Division, and found the maximum age in this small sample was 89 years. Alec MacCall queried the RecFIN database, and found that most of the recreational catch comes from rare trips that catch large numbers of bronzespotted rockfish. It is likely that imposing a recreational bag limit of zero or one fish, combined with the protection already provided by Southern California’s Cowcod Conservation Area, should be sufficient to rebuild the stock. However, it may not be feasible to determine a quantitative rebuilding target and associated time frame for this extremely data-poor species. (February 6, 2007)

Contact: Alec MacCall, 831-420-3950, Alec.MacCall@noaa.gov