Science + an act: how the canary got its groove back

Science + an act: how the canary got its groove back

Canary rockfish are one of the most eye-catching fish in the Aquarium’s cold water exhibits, but there are not as many of them in the ocean as there used to be. Luckily for us, and for the canary rockfish, that is changing.

Canary rockfish, Sebastes pinniger

These fish live up to 80 years, and everything during that life happens slowly. Canary rockfish are slow to grow, slow to reproduce and slow to do just about everything—so there was a time when we were fishing them from the ocean faster than their populations could replenish. In 2000, the canary rockfish was declared overfished and a plan was put in place to grow its populations on the entire west coast of the United States. Because of the canary’s long life span, managers knew this wouldn’t happen overnight. They projected that their plan would bring canary rockfish back to harvestable levels by 2057. Just a few years ago in 2015, this science-based management paid off, and the canary rockfish fishery was declared rebuilt—40 years ahead of schedule!

So who was it that deemed this fishery overfished in the first place? And who put the recovery plan into action? Thanks to a federal law called the Magnuson–Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (phew!), the canary rockfish was brought back from the brink. This law is probably one that you’ve never heard of, but once you do, you can’t help but be proud of this important legislation. First passed in 1976, the goal of the Magnuson–Stevens Act is to better regulate how the U. S. manages its ocean resources, so that fisheries can continue to produce into the future. Since its inception, the law has been reauthorized twice by Congress, always with strong bipartisan support. It is a proven success, and not just for the canary rockfish. Over the past two decades, this federal management program has brought 43 fisheries stocks back from being overfished.

Aquarium Conservation Partnership

Juvenile canary rockfish

Right now, Congress is reviewing how we manage our fisheries. The Seattle Aquarium, and members of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership, are urging our local representatives to make science the driving factor in how we make fisheries management decisions. Science-based decision making supports a healthy ecosystem, resilient communities and a thriving economy. Our coastal communities have relied on ocean resources for hundreds of years—or in the case of the Coast Salish peoples since time immemorial. Together, with effective science-based management, we can help ensure that our local fisheries thrive for generations to come.

Thank you for your continued support of the Aquarium, and make sure you come visit us soon so you can see the amazing canary rockfish and other species that directly benefit from some of the best-managed fisheries in the world.


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