Alaska Sea Grant Study Underway Could Aid Rockfish Management

Researchers with the Alaska Sea Grant program are studying rockfish off Gulf of Alaska waters, including interviews with harvesters and fishery managers, in an effort to inform better management decisions for rockfish populations in decline.

An Alaska Sea Grant report published on June 23 notes that with increased commercial and sport fishing of nearshore rockfish, fishery managers in Alaska need more information about their size, distribution and relative abundance to make more informed management decisions.

The work by researchers Anne Beaudreau and Jesse Gordon is demonstrating how local ecological knowledge has the potential to augment scientific knowledge, improving on what’s known about rockfish and how to better manage them, the report said.

Beaudreau, who holds a doctorate in aquatic and fishery sciences from the University of Washington, in on the fisheries faculty at UAF. Gordon is a graduate student whose research is focused on addressing information gaps in management of rockfish in Alaska through the use of local ecological knowledge, in combination with scientific data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Their research team at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has conducted over 40 interviews with fishermen at Kodiak and Sitka, as well as fishery managers, about their perceptions of abundance changes for commonly harvested species of rockfish.

The interviews included getting the fishermen’s perception of management and how to improve it, and actions fishermen are taking to promote stewardship of rockfish fisheries.

They found that perceptions of rockfish abundance differed, particularly between those interviewed in Sitka and in Kodiak. While some reported little change, other harvesters saw some decrease in the numbers of rockfish. Beaudreau and Gordon described these differing observations as arising from a combination of localized differences in rockfish abundance between areas and the fishermen’s individual experiences.

“The differences we saw between Kodiak and Sitka illustrate the importance of recognizing the place-based context in which management decisions are made,” Beaudreau explained, “so that the impacts on local people can be appropriately assessed.”

In consideration of the relative lack of research and monitoring of rockfish compared to salmon, the research team suggested taking a bottom-up local approach to management, involving fishermen and others contributing their observations to provide a more complete picture of the status of rockfish fisheries in Alaska.

Alaska Sea Grant is a federally funded partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and is one of 34 Sea Grant programs throughout the U.S.