Oregon researchers to begin survey for black, blue, deacon rockfish

NEWPORT, Ore – ODFW researchers are about to embark on a nearly 10-week at-sea survey of black, blue, and deacon rockfish in Oregon’s nearshore waters. The crew of four will use scientific fish finders and underwater video cameras to count these highly prized rockfish species in Oregon.

Leif Rasmuson, lead researcher on this project says blue, black, and deacon rockfish have considerable economic value to Oregon’s recreational, charter, and commercial nearshore fisheries but managers need better information to effectively manage the fisheries.

“Right now, we rely on data from the fisheries to assess these populations. Our samplers collect harvest information from recreational, charter, and commercial fishers, and we use this data to estimate populations. But we need scientific survey data to generate a better estimate of population size,” Rasmuson said.

The team will depart from Newport early Saturday morning to begin Oregon’s first fishery-independent survey of black, blue and deacon rockfish near the Washington border.

Rasmuson and his team conducted pilot study surveys using scientific fish finders and underwater video cameras at Seal Rock reef near Newport. They compared findings to a population estimate from an historic 11-year mark-recapture study. In this way, researchers verified that their method was effective and also cost effective.

The survey will be conducted along the entire Oregon coast over approximately 175 nautical miles of rocky reef nearshore habitat using four transects per mile (about 700 total). For each transect, a suspended video camera system will be deployed to provide fish length and species composition estimates. Data will then be used to generate more accurate population estimates for black, blue and deacon rockfish.

By not needing to rely on harvest data, fishery managers will have unbiased estimates of population abundance and biomass for these three heavily fished nearshore rockfish species. Information will benefit commercial and recreational fishermen and the coastal communities that rely on those industries.

“This technique will allow us to promote long-term sustainable management of these fish, and the public will have more confidence in our data which is absolutely key to successful management,” Rasmuson said.

A crew of four researchers will live and work on the RV Pacific Surveyor captained by Al Pazar for up to eight days at a time, return to port to download data, take on fuel and food, and return to sea. Some scientists will rotate on and off to prevent burn out.

The project is funded by a generous grant from the ODFW Restoration and Enhancement board and matched with money from the ODFW commercial fish fund. After completing the survey, it will be reviewed by the Scientific and Statistical Committee of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

“Hopefully, the benefit of these data will help us secure long-term funding to repeat this work every couple of years into the future. If the survey is successful in Oregon, it could be expanded to cover the entire West coast as value for these fish is also high in California and Washington.”