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Inside A Marine Reserve: Adopt A Rockfish And See If It's Protected

Longtime Ecotrope readers might remember an early post listing the 5 things you should know about rockfish. One of the things on that list was a research project in Port Orford’s Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve that invites people to adopt a rockfish and follow its movements within the no-fishing zone. Why would anyone want to do that?

Rockfish are the poster fish for marine reserves because they don’t migrate up and down the coast like tuna or in and out of rivers like salmon. Many of the 70-some species of rockfish on the West Coast hang out in the same general neighborhood for their entire lives. Rockfish inside Oregon’s new marine reserves, therefore, are less likely to be caught by fishing boats. And as the females grow older – they can live to 100 – studies show they produce more and more babies.

Marine reserves are still controversial among fishermen because they close down fishing grounds, but the idea might be more popular if the reserves wind up boosting fish populations outside the no-fishing zones.

But how big is this rockfish neighborhood? How big do marine reserves need to be to protect resident rockfish for their entire lives? To find that out, Oregon State University graduate student Tom Calvanese is tracking six species of rockfish. He captured 30 different fish inside the reserve and inserted acoustic tags into them. He set receivers inside the reserve and along the reserve boundaries. And for about a year now he’s been collecting data from the receivers that show how much time the fish spend inside and outside of the reserve. To support the project, he has invited people to adopt one of the tagged rockfish.

In the video above you can see how Calvanese is illustrating the results of his research. (You don’t have to adopt a fish to see his findings.) It shows in green flashes which receivers a cabezon rockfish passed by from May through October of last year. The star indicates where the fish was released after being tagged, and the yellow lines are the marine reserve boundary.

One of the goals of the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve is to protect several rockfish species that have a lot of value in the live-fish market. China, Quillback and Copper rockfish are some of the most valuable fish that fishermen in Port Orford catch, Calvanese said.

“If one of the goals of the marine reserve is to protect those fish then we need to know if they stay in the protected area or not,” he said. “In a way, the fundamental question is a very simple one: Do the fish stay in the protected area or do they leave?”

So far he’s found examples of both: Some fish do stay entirely inside the marine reserve, and others have hung out around the boundaries or left and never come back. Here’s a video of the first example: The China rockfish.

“The China rockfish has a very small home range size,” said Calvanese. “It really is contained within the marine reserve, so it is receiving full protection.”

Now, here’s an example on the other end of the spectrum: The canary rockfish.

“The canary rockfish is related to the China rockfish, but it has a very different behavior pattern,” said Calvanese. “You’ll notice this fish is detected around the boundaries and then isn’t detected at all for awhile.”

Here’s the video of the fish detections from December 2010 to February 2011.

“As far as I know, I haven’t detected that fish again since,” Calvanese said. “So the story for the canary rockfish is a completely different story from the China rockfish story. That’s why this research is important because if we just lump these species together and say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing with our marine reserve. We’re protecting rockfish,’ well, not quite. We’re protecting certain species of rockfish and others are receiving little or almost no protection. So I think that’s very important as we move forward to understanding the effect of marine reserves. I think this is giving us an opportunity to tak a realistic look at what the effect of marine reserves will be.”

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