Habitat help for rockfish in court

Critical habitat has yet to be determined for three species of federally protected Puget Sound rockfish, including the Yelloweye above.   - Contributed photo / WDFW
Critical habitat has yet to be determined for three species of federally protected Puget Sound rockfish, including the Yelloweye above.
— image credit: Contributed photo / WDFW

Journal staff report

Threatened and endangered rockfish in the Salish Sea have an advocate in the Center for Biological Diversity, which on July 11 announced a legal effort to force the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate critical habitat necessary for protection of three species of rockfish.

In 2010, the 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 that listing, federal law requires protection of critical habitat. Studies have shown that species with protected critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as species without. The CBD lawsuit targets the agency’s failure to designate critical habitat for rockfish.

“Every single fish matters in keeping these rockfish from going extinct,” said CBD attorney Catherine Kilduff. “Some rockfish can live to be 100 years old, so wiping out Puget Sound rockfish is like clear-cutting an old-growth forest.”

Under state fishing rules, no fishing is allowed for rockfish in marine area 7, which includes all of San Juan County, or in most other Puget Sound marine areas. Only coastal areas and the western end of the Straits of Juan de Fuca have open rockfish fishing seasons, many of which include one or two fish limits and “keep the first fish caught” rules.

“These fish used to be common on Puget Sound’s steep underwater walls, but now they’re so rare they may not be able to find mates,” said Kilduff. “The worst part is that many rockfish now die by accident, caught incidentally in other fisheries or by ‘ghost’ gear — lost commercial fishing nets and commercial and recreational crab pots that are littering Puget Sound.”

According to a press release, the Center for Biological Diversity has more than 500,000 members nationwide dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. For more information, go to and


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