Habitat Safeguards Needed to Protect Rare, Long-lived Fish
SAN FRANCISCO–(ENEWSPF)–July 11 – The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service over the agency’s failure to protect habitat for endangered rockfish in Puget Sound. Rockfish, often brightly colored and capable of living more than 100 years, have seen their populations badly depleted by decades of overfishing.
“Every single fish matters in keeping these rockfish from going extinct,” said Center attorney Catherine Kilduff. “Some rockfish can live to be 100 years old, so wiping out Puget Sound rockfish is like clearcutting an old-growth forest.”
In 2010 the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the Puget Sound/Georgia basin populations of yelloweye rockfish and canary rockfish as threatened, and bocaccio rockfish as endangered, under the Endangered Species Act. With that listing, federal law requires protection of critical habitat. Studies have shown that species with protected critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as species without. Today’s lawsuit targets the agency’s failure to designate critical habitat for rockfish.
“These fish used to be common on Puget Sound’s steep underwater walls, but now they’re so rare they may not be able to find mates,” said Kilduff. “The worst part is that many rockfish now die by accident, caught incidentally in other fisheries or by ‘ghost’ gear — lost commercial fishing nets and commercial and recreational crab pots that are littering Puget Sound.”
Even though thousands of nets, pots and traps were removed between 2002 and 2011, an estimated 1,000 nets remain in Puget Sound in shallow subtidal areas, including habitat for canary, bocaccio and yelloweye rockfish. These nets — not including nets in deepwater rockfish habitat — kill more than 16,000 fish every year, 10 percent of which are rockfish. In addition to lost gear and active fishing, other potential threats to rockfish habitat include contaminants (because of their long lives as predators of smaller fish, rockfish accumulate toxins); shoreline development; and nonnative seaweeds and sea squirts.
While rockfish live from Baja California to Alaska, the currents in Puget Sound prevent dispersal, making Puget Sound populations distinct and significant. Due to steep declines in abundance, bocaccio from Northern California to Mexico are a “species of concern,” a designation that signals distress but doesn’t give concrete legal protection to the fish.