Sport fishery for yelloweye rockfish to remain closed | Local News

A rule change by the Alaska Board of Fisheries last year was related to a decades-old concern that the yelloweye population is floating at levels too low to support the fishery.

In March 2022, the board approved a series of proposals that establish new duffel bag and ownership limits for Southeast Alaska’s various rockfish species.

Yelloweye are grouped with similar rockfish species in a category known as “Demeral Shelf Rockfish”.

Demersal rockfish are bottom-dwelling fish that typically inhabit rocky or boulder-strewn habitats. The group includes yellow-eyed, quillback, copper, chinese, canary, tiger, and rosethorn clifffish, according to information from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. DSR species flaunt some bizarre and showy complexions, such as the red-striped tiger rockfish and the black China rockfish speckled with bright yellow.

Commercial fishing, sport fishing and fishing for personal use for DSRs have been closed in the Southeast for three years, and keeping all DSRs has been banned for all recreational fishermen in 2021 for population reasons, according to Fish and Game.

During its March 2022 session, the Alaska Board of Fisheries opened limited DSR sport fishing opportunities to Alaskan residents but kept Yelloweye closed to any catch. The panel ruled that Alaskans can catch and keep one demersal rockfish (excluding yelloweye) per day with a two-fish ownership limit and no annual catch limit.

Non-residents are prohibited from holding any DSR species they have caught.

Fish and Game Troy Tydingco, director of commercial fisheries for the Sitka area, examines scorpionfish. Tydingco told the Daily News that in March 2022, the Board of Fisheries heard proposals to open demersal rockfish fishing to Alaskan resident sport fishermen.

Given the population estimates, the board decided that residents would be okay with keeping some DSR they catch, but not yellow-eyed, according to Tydingco.

“By giving residents the opportunity to harvest, we felt it was biologically correct,” Tydingco said. “It was recognized that Yelloweye was kind of a no-go.”

Tydingco told the Daily News that sport fishermen target the yelloweye fish more than any other rockfish species.

“It’s this dramatic, big, beautiful scorpionfish,” Tydingco said.

ADF&G describes the species as an “orange-red and orange-yellow” fish with a bright golden eye that can grow to 36 inches. They have lateral stripes when young and sometimes develop black-tipped fins.

A 2021 fish and game report covering all DSRs in the Gulf of Alaska states that yellow-eyed are the dominant species of all demersal shelf clifffish.

Meanwhile, Fish and Game biomass estimates for yellow-eyed rockfish in the Gulf of Alaska show that yellow-eyed rockfish have declined by 60% since 1994, according to the 2021 DSR report.

Fish and Game studies rockfish that live only in outdoor waters and extrapolates their population estimates across all rockfish habitat, including indoor waters.

Tydingco said Yelloweye acts as an “index” of the health of all of Southeast Alaska’s shelf rockfish populations, which are much less populous and much less studied.

“They really represent what we would suspect is happening to some other demersal shelf rockfish species,” Tydingco said.

Tydingco said the DSR population is struggling despite the closure of commercial fisheries in Southeast Alaska.

Targeted commercial fisheries for demersal shelf species have been closed in southern Southeast Alaska intermittently for years, most recently since 2020. Commercial fisheries in northern Southeast Alaska for DSR have been closed since 1995.

Fish and Game said in its 2021 report that DSR “are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because of their longevity, late maturation, and habitat-specific residency.”

Demersal shelf species have long lives; Most are 15 to 75 years old, and some live to be over 100, according to Fish and Game. DSRs are known to reproduce when they are over 20 years old; Population recoveries could take decades.

The “acceptable biological catch” for rockfish species in the Gulf of Alaska is determined by the federal North Pacific Fisheries Management Council based on population estimates.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game establishes rules for state-managed rockfish fisheries that adhere to the NPFMC’s catch guidelines.

Fish and Game allocates 16% of the DSR allowable catch to recreational fishing and 84% to the commercial industry, according to the 2021 Fish and Game Report on DSR.

In recent years, the population estimate for DSR has been too low to support targeted commercial, sporting, or personal fishing for DSR. Fish and Game accounts for the removal of DSR as bycatch in other commercial fisheries and the removal of DSR by government managed subsistence fishermen.

According to the 2021 report, demersal fish account for 8-10% of the commercial halibut fishery catch, and the halibut fishery has accounted for 44% of all DSR revenue in the Gulf of Alaska since 2000. According to the report, yellow-eye bycatch in the halibut fishery has increased over the past three years.

In addition to the DSR group, there are other scorpionfish species in the region.

The Board of Fisheries established catch guidelines for non-DSR rockfish species with diverse biology and stock structures during its March 2022 decision for the Southeast region.

Pelagic rockfish include species known as black, dusky, dusky, widow, and yellowtail, which are more uniform in color with muddy and greenish complexions. According to ADF&G, the species often live in midwater in schools near rock structures. Most fish are seven to 30 years old and grow to around 25 inches.

Under the Board of Fisheries’ new rule, both resident and non-resident sport fishermen can catch and keep five pelagic rockfish per day, with an individual ownership limit of ten fish, with no annual limit and no size limit. In the Sitka area, the nonresident pelagic rockfish catch limit is three fish per day and the nonresident possession limit is six fish.

Another group of rockfish is the Slope rockfish. Hang species commonly found in sport fishing in Southeast Alaska include red band, rough-eyed, short raker, silver gray, and vermilion kite bass, according to the ADF&G.

Resident and non-resident sport anglers may catch one clifffish per day, with a two-fish ownership limit and no annual limit on catching clifffish. Hang species commonly found in sport fishing in Southeast Alaska include red band, rough-eyed, short raker, silver gray, and vermilion kite bass, according to the ADF&G.

The Board of Fish rule includes a requirement that Fish and Game began in 2020 to require all sport fishermen to have a deep water release mechanism on board their fishing vessel.

When releasing rock fish such as B. a yellow-eye, which sporting regulations do not allow for retention, anglers must use a mechanism that board rule requires the fish to be returned to the depth at which it was hooked, or to a depth of at least 100 feet.

Deep water release devices help regulate pressure for rockfish that have been drawn to the surface. Rockfish often do not survive an excursion from the depths because the gases in their swim bladder expand due to the rapid pressure change.

“Fish released with inflated swim bladders cannot resurface and will die,” states Fish and Game’s National Rockfish Conservation Initiative page.

Deep water release mechanisms aim to get the rockfish back into deep water and release them once pressure on their swim bladder has returned. ADF&G said in a recent study that 98% of yellow-eyed rockfish released at depth survive, while 22% of rockfish released at sea surface survive.

A video on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game YouTube channel demonstrates several home-made jigs that can return rockfish to a depth where they might survive, including weighted “inverse jigs” that allow rockfish to jump off a hook shake after sinking into the depths. A fisherman in the video places a scorpionfish under a weighted, inverted milk crate attached to a line. The fisherman lets go of the line and the box sinks with the fish caught inside. When the box is 100 feet deep, the fisherman pulls the box off the fish and the fish swims away freely.

Commercial deep water release devices are available from fishing tackle suppliers.

ADF&G encourages fishermen to keep jigs and lures 10 to 15 feet off the seabed to reduce rockfish bycatch; “This has little or no impact on halibut and lingcod catch rates.”

Sport fishing for rockfish is permitted all year round. restrictions apply. Contact Fish and Game for more information.

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