| From CCA’s rockfish sub-committee:
Sport fishing for various species of rockfish is very popular in Washington and economically important to coastal communities. About a dozen different species are relatively common in sport catches. Unfortunately, due to unsustainable harvest rates, sport fishing for these fish has been greatly curtailed both in Puget Sound and off the outer coast. Some species, such as the yelloweye rockfish, which have become a focus of concern, are capable of attaining weights exceeding 30 pounds and ages of well over a century.
A primary reason for limiting sport fishing is that rockfish tend to inhabit deep water and suffer acutely from “barotrauma” when brought to the surface - a condition characterized by a bladder-like stomach protruding from the mouth and, in severe cases, bulging eyes. If simply released back into the water, their gas-inflated bodies prevent them from descending below the surface and they soon die. Experiments to deflate them by puncture have not increased survival.
Therefore, even though fishing for some species is perfectly justified, it is often not allowed when protected rockfish are likely to be encountered that cannot be successfully released at the surface. The good news is that recent experiments have demonstrated that the survival of rockfish hauled to the surface from deep water is high if they are quickly returned to the depth from which they were taken. Also, there appear to be simple and practical methods for anglers to do that with the appropriate equipment.
The following diagram illustrates one simple device for returning rockfish to the depth from which they were taken. The large barbless hook is inserted through the soft tissue inside of the jaw bone.
Alaska, where rockfish populations are in far better condition, will require anglers to use such methods next year. CCA Washington, along with Puget Sound Anglers, believe that similar requirements in Washington could significantly increase opportunities for recreational fishing while facilitating rockfish recovery.
We note that Puget Sound lingcod are faring much better than rockfish but fishing for them is not allowed in depths exceeding 120 feet (to protect rockfish) even though lingcod, which are immune to barotrauma, are a major rockfish predator! Successful deep water rockfish release has the potential of re-opening vast areas of Puget Sound and coastal waters to recreational fishing. CCA Washington and Puget Sound Anglers will pursue this potential with specific proposals.