Brigade Reef Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) Project

Copper Rockfish pictured from Brigade Reef

Howe Sound Rockfish Seek Protection

Rockfish Conservation Area status vital for Brigade Reef.

By Bridget John – November 28, 2018


170 years old, is the age some rockfish species live to, including the dwindling populations in our backyard, the Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem. The Underwater Council for British Columbia (UCBC), is requesting the DFO to move the Brigade Reef in the Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem into a Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) status immediately, to help protect the declining rockfish population.

There are 37 species of rockfish in British Columbia, with Copper, Quillback, Puget Sound and Yellowtail regularly observed in the Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem. All rockfish have closed swim bladders. So when a rockfish is brought to the surface by fishing, the swim bladder expands leaving the fish stuck without the ability to depressurize and return to the seafloor, like one would scuba diving. If bringing the rockfish up to the surface doesn’t explode their swim bladder and kill them, the fish will on their side, swim around in circles, with the unattainable goal of getting back to the deep, until it becomes prey or dies.

Attributes that make rockfish extremely sensitive to fishing include;

  • their closed swim bladder
  • a sedentary behaviour
  • being slow growing

In the 1960s, with salmon sport fishing at a high, the by-catch of rockfish increased resulting in a major decline of the rockfish populations. In the 1980s, live market fisheries increased leading to further rockfish decline. Approximately thirty years later in the Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem (Area 28), the hook-and-line of rockfish became prohibited.

In 2007, Fisheries and Oceans Canada introduced 11 Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) along the in Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem, to help the rockfish populations recover. These RCAs are also closed to sport fishing for rockfish and according to the Coastal Ocean Research Institute, the area continues see deteriorating numbers partially due to poaching in RCA’s.

Now, why does it matter? Well, for centuries inshore rockfish have been a reliable food source for First Nations and other BC residents. Moreover, being a mid-level predator in the Howe Sound reef community make rockfish an important link in the food chain. With their diverse range of habitats, protecting them consequently protects a variety of other species.

So getting back to the matter at hand. East of Gambier Island in the Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem, the unprotected Brigade Reef needs RCA status. A research project has been in the works for the last year, led by UCBC, the Marine Life Sanctuaries and the Vancouver Aquarium, to assess the feasibility of this proposed RCA status in attempt to repair the rockfish populations.

With 9 research dive surveys out at Brigade Reef, a summary of the rockfish community was created. With the bedrock and boulders at Brigade Reef, it has proven to be a critical habitat for vulnerable rockfish species. When setting up any protected area, connectivity is a key component and at Brigade Reef, the reef-fish have a shallow underwater bridge connecting them to the shoreline community.

With the support of the Howe Sound/Atl’kitsem’s community and efforts all around, the Brigade Reef seeks the formal protection of a Rockfish Conservation Area status so as to increase the enforcement and allow the rockfish populations to thrive once again.


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