They're one of the underdogs of the marine world.
Once so plentiful that sports fishermen couldn't stand the sight of them, by the 1960s rockfish were hauled out of the water to the point of being virtually nonexistent in Howe Sound.
They're large, don't move far from their home turf and are slow to mature, factors that make them easy targets for fishing lines and sea predators, such as harbour seals and sea lions. But it also makes them easy to spot, a point the vice-president of marine science for Vancouver Aquarium is hoping will encourage local divers to get on side with ongoing research.
“The thing we are trying to do is disarm some of the anxiety about actually putting a name on [the fish],” Jeff Marliave said.
Since 2006, the aquarium has conducted a Rockfish Abundance Survey. The annual initiative, which started this month and runs until Oct. 28, has historically been supported by volunteer “citizen scientist” divers.
But unlike the volunteer-driven Lingcod Egg Mass Survey, which celebrated its 19th birthday this past summer, the rockfish survey has had zero public response over the past few years, Marliave said. He wants to change that.
“In Howe Sound, you are really going to see copper and quillback rockfish and you might see other species, but they will look really different,” Marliave said.
Since 2002, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has set up 164 rockfish conservation areas (RCAs) along the coastline of B.C. Eleven are in Howe Sound, Marliave noted. The zones are meant to protect rockfish from recreational and commercial fisheries.
“We can't expect the government to be monitoring it all,” Marliave said of the areas and ongoing research.
That's were the survey comes in. Marliave aims to collect enough data to enable comparisons. Citizen divers can help to determine the abundance of rockfish, Marliave said, noting that participants don't need to concentrate on RCAs.
In 1997, the Vancouver Aquarium released baby black rockfish from Ucluelet at Point Atkinson in the hope that they would start a colony. Over the past few years, scientists are seeing signs that the rockfish transplants have successfully bred new generations.
To get involved, contact the dive team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (604) 659-3440. People interested in the survey can also visit www.vanaqua.org/act/research/fish/rockfish-survey, a website that provides videos on identifying rockfish species.