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Rockfish harvest closed for 2020: Commercial, personal fishing halted after decline in rockfish biomass

Daily News Staff Writer

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is clamping down on rockfish fisheries this year.

On Tuesday, Fish and Game announced the closure of commercial Demersal Shelf Rockfish and the personal use yelloweye rockfish fisheries in Southeast Alaska starting Jan. 1.

The decision comes after a biomass decline of 60% since 1994, when yelloweye rockfish were first assessed, according to Tuesday's announcement.

Despite conservative management over the last decade, Fish and Game is reporting annual trends showing a reduction of age classes. The decrease has diminished the reproductive potential for yelloweye rockfish and added uncertainty for the future growth of juveniles, according to the department.

According to Fish and Game, yelloweye rockfish can live around 120 years, but are extremely slow-growing — yelloweye don't reach sexual maturity until 18 years old — making them susceptible to overexploitation.

The yelloweye rockfish component comprises over 95% of the DSR commercial harvest and is the primary target compared to the six other DSR species, including quillback, copper, rosethorn, canary, China, and tiger rockfish.

Personal use fishermen are encouraged to utilize rockfish deepwater release devices to decrease release mortality of yelloweye rockfish while bottom fishing for other species.

A new regulation, effective Jan. 1 of this year, requires all vessels sport fishing in Southeast Alaska salt water to have a functioning deepwater release mechanism on board. All rockfish not harvested must be released at depth of capture, or at a depth of 100 feet.

The closures for the two varieties of rockfish do not apply to non-state managed waters, including the Annette Island Reserve. The waters within 3,000 feet of Annette Island, Ham Island, Hemlock Island, Spire Island, Walker Island, Lewis Island, and adjacent rocks and islets are designated within the fishing reserve, according to the Fish and Game press release.