Oregon is in the midst of an epic quest to site marine reserves off the coast. These are areas closed to fishing and other extractive activities within the state’s 3-mile territorial sea.

One of the top beneficiaries of no-fishing zones: the multi-colored rockfish.

So far, Oregon has two pilot reserves locked in already, after only eight years of debate and negotiation.

… OK, so that’s kind of a long time.

Here’s why: Many coastal communities have been fighting the marine reserves concept because their economies rely on the fishing industry. They argue supporters haven’t explained why the reserves are necessary (i.e. What’s the problem the reserves would solve?)

Scientists have studied the ecological value of marine reserves in other places; Their studies show the reserves increase abundance and diversity of marine life. Supporters say the reserves will be like ecological savings accounts for our ocean - like the national parks are on land.

Rockfish are one of the major currencies that these reserves would stockpile because they spend much of their lives in the same general neighborhoods at the bottom of the ocean.

As Oregon – under the advisement of community stakeholder groups – considers adding four additional reserves to the coastline, I thought I’d supply you with 5 things you should know about rockfish:



  • They often go by the nickname “red snapper” at fish markets and restaurants. So, you’ve might have eaten one, whether you knew it at the time or not.



  • There are 64 species of rockfish managed in the Pacific Ocean, and some have fun names like chilipepper, cowcod and bocaccio. Some species are protected because they’re overfished. But there’s also a large, federally protected Rockfish Conservation Area farther offshore, where no rockfish can be caught.



  • They can live about as long as people do, and studies show that as they get older, the females produce more and more eggs.



  • The groundfish trawl fishery that catches them with nets is being overhauled after decades of management that didn’t do the rockfish populations (or the fishermen, as of late) much good. Canary rockfish stocks, arguably, took the biggest hit.



  • Soon, you can adopt one. That’s right. In one of Oregon’s two pilot marine reserves - off the coast of Port Orford at Redfish Rocks, scientist Tom Calvanese, a grad student at Oregon State University, will be inserting acoustic tracking devices into five species of rockfish. He’ll study their movements and see how much time they spend in the reserve, which will be closed to fishing July 1, 2011. Adopt one of the tagged fish, if you want, and you can support his research.