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Fish and Game angling for rockfish release

Yelloweye rockfish.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Yelloweye rockfish.

As you pack up your fishing tackle to head out on the saltwater, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game wants to ensure you don’t forget your deep-water release device. There are various kinds on the market, or you can make your own. Just so long as they return rockfish to the deep so they can resume their very long lifecycle.

“We’re seeing a larger number of younger fish harvested. And that’s a concern because we want the fish to be able to have a recruitment event, right? If they’re not reproducing, we’re not going to continue to have the same population that we have,” said Brittany Blain-Roth, area management biologist for the North Gulf Coast and Resurrection Bay.

Fish and Game lowered catch and retention limits for rockfish throughout Cook Inlet, around the lower Kenai Peninsula to Resurrection Bay and throughout Prince William Sound. The reduction went into effect in May, but Blain-Roth said some anglers don’t seem to have gotten word of that yet.

In Cook Inlet, along the North Gulf Coast and Resurrection Bay, the new limit is three rockfish per day, six in possession. And only one per day, two in possession can be nonpelagic, which are bottom-dwelling rockfish. Pelagic rockfish are found midwater or closer to the surface.

In Prince William Sound, the new limit is three per day, six in possession and only one per day, one in possession can be a nonpelagic. There’s an added restriction in Prince William Sound that yelloweye rockfish may not be retained May 1 through June 30, which is when they’re gravid with eggs.

Rockfish harvest is at an all-time high in Southcentral Alaska. Fish and Game thinks that is at least partly due to restrictions on the harvest of other species. Halibut charters in Cook Inlet and the North Gulf Coast aren’t allowed to fish for halibut on Wednesdays throughout the summer and, new this year, Tuesdays from June 20 through Aug. 15. King salmon fishing is closed in upper Cook Inlet through July 31 and the king salmon bag limit in lower Cook Inlet was lowered from two to one fish this year. Harvest restrictions on rockfish are meant to protect the species from increasing pressure.

“It’s just something we need to keep aware of and conserve the resource so that it is here for the long haul," Blain-Roth said.

Rockfish have very slow life cycles. Yelloweye can be over 100 years old. Pelagic rockfish can live several decades. It can take 10 to 15 years for some rockfish to reach maturity.

“They take a long time to reproduce. And that’s obviously important to be able to let them grow enough to have a reproductive event," Blain-Roth said.

Fish and Game, and Blain-Roth, in particular, have been studying the effectiveness of deep-water release devices for 15 years. She said they just plain work. Even if a fish’s eyes and stomach are bulged out at the surface, rockfish can recover. She said the chance of a yelloweye’s survival with a deep water-release device can be as high as 99 percent. She’s found yelloweye able to reproduce after being caught and released. Another rockfish was caught again eight years after it was first caught, tagged and released.

“That’s why we stand behind the importance of using deep-water release,” Blain-Roth said.

Fish and Game has information and videos on how to use deep water-release devices on its website. Blain-Roth recommends signing up for or at least checking emergency orders before heading out fishing.

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.
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