Staff of the La Jolla Laboratory's Fisheries Resources Division and members of the California Department of Fish and Game recently conducted a stock assessment of cowcod, Sebastes levis. The cowcod is one of the largest rockfish species, reaching almost 1 m in total length. Its huge head and jaws and laterally compressed body equip it well for life as an ambush predator of the deep shelf and upper slope. The species ranges from central Oregon to central Baja California and Guadalupe Island, Mexico (Butler et al. 1999, Eschmeyer et al 1983). Southern California has been recognized as the center of distribution of the species since the 1880s (Eigenmann and Beeson 1894).
The cowcod fishery was a classic example of serial depletion. Cowcod were targeted by both recreational and commercial fishers. Because of its large size, cowcod were esteemed by recreational anglers, and commercial fishers receive more for cowcod than all other rockfish except those species caught and sold live to restaurants. Recreational angler success was high around islands and banks near the mainland during the 1960s . During the 90s catch rates were high only at remote offshore banks . Although no data exist, it is possible that catch rates and cowcod populations were high along mainland sites during the 40s and 50s. This decline can be traced to targeting by both recreational and commercial fishers on a stock with low productivity. The cowcod population south of Pt. Conception was about 7% of the virgin stock in 1998 and was been declared over-fished by the Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2000. A rebuilding plan will be adopted in 2001. Population projections suggest that may take more than 40 years to rebuild the cowcod population to sustainable levels with no fishery mortality. With limited fishing it may take more than 90 years. Long-lived apex predators with low reproductive rates that experience only sporadic successful recruitment present a unique challenge to fishery management.