Watching Our Water Ways

Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Rockfish getting the ‘respect’ that Sam Wright has requested

April 24th, 2009 by cdunagan

Three species of Puget Sound rockfish have been proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Bocaccio is proposed as “endangered,” while canary and yelloweye rockfish are proposed as threatened. (See the news release from the National Marine Fisheries Service.)

<i>Yelloweye rockfish</i> <small>photo by Tory O’Connell, Alaska Department of Fish and Game</small>

Yelloweye rockfish
Photo by Tory O’Connell, Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Of course, any listing is predicated upon scientific assessments of the population and risk of extinction, but I don’t recall any listed animal linked so closely to the efforts of a single person.

Sam Wright, a biologist who retired from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, first petitioned to list 18 species of rockfish in 1999. But agency officials said he had not pulled together enough information, so his petition was rejected. Then he tried again in 2007, and was rejected again — until after he added more information and asked for reconsideration. Finally, Wright has experienced success — if you can call it that — for these three species.

Two other rockfish species under review — greenstriped and redstriped rockfish — did not warrant listing at this time, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“They are beautiful fish,” Wright told me for a Kitsap Sun story published March 17 of last year. “They can live as long as human beings.”

Divers used to spear these rockfish and take them home to eat, he said, but now that they are nearly gone, there is a growing feeling of “look but don’t touch.”

Wright said he believes that saving rockfish is “more a matter of respect than anything else.”

Commercial fishing years ago has been blamed for the steep decline, and the stocks have never recovered.

In this latest action, critical habitat was not yet proposed, and it is unclear what other measures may be taken to protect rockfish. The proposed listing is subject to review and comment before becoming final.

For additional information, including a question-and-answer discussion and a 220-page draft “status review,” go to the agency’s Web site for Puget Sound rockfish.

See also a Water Ways entry I wrote more than a year ago and a Seattle Times story by Craig Welch.

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One Response to “Rockfish getting the ‘respect’ that Sam Wright has requested”

  1. Tom Rosendale Says:

    There are definitely some types of rockfish that should be released, law or no law.

    It’s wrong to blame commercial fisherman when greedy Washington state “sold” them licenses to drag the bottoms which obliterated habitat. That was OK, but heavens forbid if you put a post in the water that causes shade for your own clams.

    It should be called the Department of Revenue from Fish and Wildlife.

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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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