Rockfish Conservation AreaStrait of Georgia
In 2004 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans designated over 100 sites on the BC coast as Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCA); areas in which any type of fishing that would impact rockfish is prohibited. Though the idea was initially celebrated by DFO and environmentalists alike, once the site choices were made public, the RCAs became the matter of heated debate and controversy. Many prominent environmental groups claim the government chose the sites in order to least impact commercial fisheries, and without much consideration for the actual rockfish, and almost all groups proclaimed the protected areas far too small. The debate continues and these long living and sensitive fish, as well as the habitat in which they live, continue to be at risk.
Location and AccessCoordinates: (Distributed throughout the Strait of Georgia)
These sites occur all around Vancouver Island wherever a purported rockfish colony is at particular risk. Most sites are quite small, covering edges of islands and reefs where these fish are easily caught. Local concentrations of the sites occurs among the Gulf Islands, near the mouth of Knight Inlet, around Quadra Island, and in Barkley Sound, though there are many more scattered along both the west and east coast of Vancouver Island. Access is generally by boat, and before protection, many of these sites were popular sites for recreational fishing. Some can also be reached from the beach, as many of the RCAs cover right up to the tideline.
The features of the RCA’s are generally consistent with rockfish habitat, which is typically underwater rocky outcroppings, which play host to a vast amount of life. The typical area is either an underwater mount, extending up and out of the seabed to within 30 m of the surface, or the rocky edge of an island as it descends rapidly into the sea. Generally the rock in the area is not smooth, and has extended edges, points, and crevasses. The areas can be quite small, perhaps just covering one rock wall as it extends off of an island, or can cover whole reefs, extending over many square kilometers.
Life in the RCAs
The protection of the Rockfish Conservation Areas, like the protection of many token species, results in the protection of dozens of other species that are not specially designated, but that share the rockfish’s habitat. Lingcod, greenling, eels, perch, even halibut are all fishes that can benefit from the protection of these areas. As well, not directly threatened by the hook and line fishery, but also at risk due to the shift in ecosystem due to overfishing are many species of invertebrates including chitons, white plume anemones, sea cucumbers, and nudibranchs.
Of course, the principle goal of RCAs is to protect one species, the rockfish. There are many types of rockfish living in the waters surrounding Vancouver Island, with the most common types being the quillback, china, copper, tiger, canary, and yelloweye. Many species do not reach sexual maturity until eight years of age or later, and as a result, this species is extremely susceptible to overfishing. They also have a very poor catch and release survival rate, with over a half of all fish released dying due to internal injuries and swim bladder damage.
Obviously, the protection of these areas is beneficial. However, the argument will continue as to whether the areas currently protected are the ones most crucial to rockfish survival, but with such a susceptible animal, further RCA’s, as well as the establishment of them as complete no-take zones, would undoubtedly be beneficial.