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For Immediate Release, August 6, 2013

Contact: Catherine Kilduff, (415) 644-8580

1,700 Square Miles of Habitat Proposed for Protection for Rare Rockfish in Puget Sound

SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service today proposed to protect 1,700 square miles of habitat in Puget Sound for endangered rockfish. Often brightly colored and capable of living more than 100 years, rockfish have seen their populations badly depleted by decades of overfishing. The government analysis preceding this proposal is the first study to identify important rockfish habitat in Puget Sound.

Canary rockfish
Canary rockfish photo by Tippy Jackson, NOAA. Photos are available for media use.

“Rockfish are an ancient and important part of the Puget Sound ecosystem. Protecting their habitat means that Puget Sound will be better for rockfish and lots of other wildlife that depend on near-shore waters and kelp forests,” said Catherine Kilduff, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a notice of intent to sue over the overdue critical habitat designation in July.

Today’s announcement proposes to designate 1,184 square miles for canary rockfish and bocaccio and 574 square miles for yelloweye rockfish. The marine waters in the proposal include near-shore kelp forests that are essential to rearing juveniles and adjacent deeper waters used by adults for shelter, foraging and reproduction. In 2010 the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the Puget Sound/Georgia basin populations of yelloweye rockfish and canary rockfish as threatened, and bocaccio rockfish as endangered, under the Endangered Species Act. With those listings, federal law requires protection of critical habitat. Research has shown that species with protected critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as species without.

“Protecting Puget Sound from pollution, abandoned fishing gear and other threats will benefit the recovery of rockfish and other creatures — including humans — who enjoy and depend upon the Sound,” said Kilduff.

Even though thousands of abandoned nets, pots and traps were removed between 2002 and 2011, an estimated 1,000 abandoned nets remain in Puget Sound in shallow subtidal areas, including habitat for canary, bocaccio and yelloweye rockfish. These nets — not including nets in deepwater rockfish habitat — kill more than 16,000 fish every year, 10 percent of which are rockfish. In addition to lost gear and active fishing, other potential threats to rockfish include contaminants (because of their long lives as predators of smaller fish, rockfish accumulate toxins); shoreline development; and nonnative seaweeds and sea squirts.

While rockfish live from Baja California to Alaska, the currents in Puget Sound prevent dispersal, making Puget Sound populations distinct and significant. Due to steep population declines, bocaccio from Northern California to Mexico are a “species of concern,” a designation that signals distress but doesn’t give concrete legal protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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