SciSun: Fishing, for a Title   Leave a comment

Sebastian C. Rockfish didn’t know he was about to be a celebrity. But he, and the countless other fish, mollusks, invertebrates, plants, and other life within over 1000 square miles of Puget Sound, Washington, have been recommended by the National Marine Fisheries Service for species protection. While this might not be ‘all the fish in the sea’ (and there are a lot less fish in the sea than there used to be), designating this area as critical habitat will help protect distinct and threatened populations of Yelloweye Rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus); Canary Rockfish (Sebastes pinniger); and the endangered Bocaccio (Sebastes pacuispinus). This last species is so unique, it only has one name. Like Madonna, or Seal. The artist, not the marine mammal.

One of the reasons these fish of the Northern Pacific Ocean need protection is because of over-fishing. Most rockfish (there are many different species and sub-species) live very long lives – scientists estimate over 100 years, possibly closer to 200 years!. No one really knows an accurate number because so many rockfish end up on dinner plates. When the natural lifespan of an animal is very long, they tend to stay young for an extended period before becoming an adult (like that guy you know who’s on the ten-year college plan); that means many rockfish are caught before they have a chance to reproduce, and make more rockfish. So clearly, without rockfish that grow to maturity there won’t be any baby rockfish to take their place. Also, rockfish generally live in areas where fishermen can easily find them; and the large, commercial fishing boats usually use bottom trawling to secure their catch. This involves dropping huge nets over the sides of the boat, dragging the nets along the bottom of the ocean, and dragging up any- and everything the nets capture: Hopefully this is only marketable fish that can be sold to restaurants but usually 20% or more of the catch (millions of pounds per year) are fish no one wants (well, no one except for the fishes’ families); along with coral; marine plants and the animals that live on the plants; sea turtles; marine mammals like dolphins; and threatened and endangered species. All this bycatch – often called ‘trash fish’ – is thrown overboard to die.

As recently as the 1980’s, restaurants would only offer and serve ‘standard’ fish we all have heard of: Cod; Halibut; Trout; Salmon, etc. Restaurants sold so much of these fish they became harder and harder to find, prices went up, and some not-so-usual fish found their way onto menus: Skate; Monkfish; Snapper; and other types no one would have eaten years ago (and generally would have been considered ‘trash’) today is considered typical. Ironically (or greedily, as more and more people are taking more and more from the oceans), now these species are being overfished and some areas are seeing entire populations collapse.

Rockfish generally refuse to give autographs.  Not that they're stuck-up, they just can't hold a pen.

Rockfish generally refuse to give autographs. Not that they’re stuck-up, they just can’t hold a pen.

And that brings us to Sebastian and the Rockfish (Note to self: good name for band). People have to eat something, so fishermen and restaurants are now catching fish NO ONE would have eaten in the past – like scorpion fish; triggerfish; white grunt and other species most people never knew existed. Of course no one wants to eat something named ‘Grunt’ (fish name, or sound you make after you eat it?), so savvy menu-writers are now offering ‘Chilean Sea Bass’ (originally Patagonian Toothfish); ‘Orange Roughy’ (also called Slimehead); and ‘Chefs Special’ (don’t ask).

The positive outlook, though (and it’s hard to find something positive about a clam named ‘Cape Cod Blood Cockle’), is by being adventurous, making good choices, and eating species that otherwise would have been thrown away, we’re being more responsible about how we care for the oceans and what we take from the seas. By conserving and protecting overfished species and giving them a chance to recover, the future looks brighter for everyone. Except maybe anyone who eats those Blood Cockles.


Michonne Says: These rocky-fish live in rocks, under the water?  How do they dig their burrows when everything’s wet?

Posted August 11, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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