Record Rockfish recruitment year
One of the highlights this last year as an underwater photographer was witnessing and documenting the unprecedented Rockfish explosion. There has not been a recruitment of young rockfish like this for decades that anyone can recall. Up and down the coast there are areas that are completely loaded with Young of the Year Rockfish of various species. The areas that I have witnessed this profusion have been on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, including areas around Tahsis, Esperanza Inlet, Brooks Peninsula, and Quatsino Sound, as well as Browning Pass near Port Hardy. Reports from California, Oregon and Washington are higher than normal, as well as Barkley Sound.
All Rockfish species that live in the Pacific Northwest are Viviparous, that is they give birth to live young, rather than laying eggs. ** see reference at end for clarification. This is somewhat uncommon for marine fish. Rockfish generally live for quite a long time, and give birth each year. But it seems there are coastal wide cycles, with some years bringing a dramatic peak in numbers. No one can really say why this large recruitment occurred this year. Maybe it was ocean temperatures, abundant feed, or some other unknown condition.
Regardless of the reason the numbers are astounding and hopefully it translates into good survival rates and high population numbers in the years to come as they grow into maturity. Salmon have been observed with stomachs full of these juveniles, and this year the size and weight of returning salmon was slightly higher than average. I especially noticed Pink Salmon being larger. Maybe this has something to do with it. There are many predator species benefitting from this abundance of small bite sized food.
-Lingcod on Browning wall waiting for an easy meal.
-Chinook salmon high above me chasing schools of Herring. The rockfish juveniles also become prey when the herring are not so prolific.
Species that I have observed in much higher numbers than normal are Yellow Tail, Black, Deacon, and Canary. I have seen the normal amount of Copper, Quillback and China juveniles where I have been diving.
-Canary Rockfish young of year in Quatsino Sound. These are very easily distinguished species due to their patterned orange colouring combined with a prominent dorsal spot.
My biggest delight was when I was ascending from the depths to the top of a rocky pinnacle in Quatsino Sound and came across a school of several thousand Bocaccio Rockfish juveniles. This species is an endangered, very long lived Rockfish on the Pacific Coast. I have never seen one before, so imagine my glee when I came across so many hanging out in the shallow kelp forest atop the pinnacle. Typically a deep living fish, the juveniles seek shelter in the kelp as they grow. It is a satisfying feeling to photograph a new species, especially one so rare. The main reason for the massive decline in this species is due to overfishing.
-School of Bocaccio Juveniles amid the kelp they use for protection.
-My first view of the Bocaccio as I approached the shallows in Quatsino Sound.
-Bocaccio juveniles can be easily recognized by their colouration, very elongate jaw, and small dark spots on the sides of their bodies.
Diving in these vast shoals of juvenile rockfish is making local divers feel like they are in Egypts Red Sea, or some other tropical destination that typically has massive fish numbers. It has made for really interesting Underwater photography. To have so much subject matter in the water column is a treat. Although I have heard more than one UW Photographer complain that there are too many small fish, and they block the view they are trying to take a picture of. Well you can’t please everyone I guess.
-Masses of juveniles crowd browning Wall near Port Hardy.
-Yellowtail Juvies in the shallows of Browning Pass.
-With so many fish in the water food can become scarce. Here they are picking at a dead Moon Jelly.
-Every dive in Browning pass begins with a descent down though masses of juvenile rockfish.
-Rugged rock pinnacles in Quatsino Sound and a haven for life, including millions of assorted Rockfish young.
-A typical scene at Browning Wall this last year.
-Looking up on any dive in Quatsino Sound tended to look like this.
-Even an Egg Yolk Jelly with its stinging tentacles is not immune to being snacked on by the voracious youngsters.
For my stock image gallery of Rockfish specific pictures click here. Rockfish of the Pacific Northwest
For Bocaccio reference info click here. http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=740
Viviparous vs ovoviviparous see this link (4th paragraph) http://californiafish.org/AFSrockpol.html
And finally, for fish geeks.
Courtesy of www.reef.org