The news is good, with a healthy dose of caution. Overfishing devastated the Chesapeake’s rockfish stocks in the 1970s, but intensive conservation efforts in the 1980s, ‘90s, and ‘00s restored them to peak historical levels. Rigorous interstate management plans coordinated and enforced by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission deserve much of the credit for the rebound. However, this favorite fish of both anglers and watermen has now dropped back to a lower—and probably more realistic—level in line with the current carrying capacity of its Bay and coastal habitats.
The latest scientific assessment of the population says that "the stock is not overfished, and overfishing is not occurring," but the spawning stock (mature females) in 2015 was close to the minimum threshold designated in the species' coastal management plan (set conservatively, well above the level of the 1980s). Fortunately, good recruitment (spawns) in 2011 and 2015 will begin to bring the numbers back up as these fish mature.
In addition, fishery managers from Maine to North Carolina, in the migratory range of Chesapeake rockfish, have cut back both recreational and commercial harvests to help reverse the decline. Concerns remain that striped bass may not have enough food in the form of Atlantic menhaden (see above)—an ecologically rich little fish and the preferred food of striped bass. Low summer dissolved oxygen conditions in the Chesapeake (driven by pollution-fueled algae blooms) sometimes force the young fish that stay here into waters with higher temperatures than they prefer, causing stress that can lead to bacterial infections. The bottom line, though, is that there are beautiful rockfish out there to catch and celebrate, and we have the scientific tools to manage them sustainably. We must, however, continue to pay attention, and never take them for granted as we once did.
More About Rockfish
20 Dec 2016 Episode 46 | 44:03
CBF President Will Baker and retiring CBF Fisheries Scientist Bill Goldsborough discuss the progress made using the science-based management of rockfish, crabs, oysters, and menhaden over the last decades.