Rockfish Bag, Possession Limit Reduction For Cook Inlet, North Gulf Coast/Resurrection Bay

The following is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

Rockfish Bag and Possession Limits Reduced in Cook Inlet and North Gulf Coast/Resurrection Bay Salt Waters

(Anchorage/Homer) – To protect rockfish and help ensure sport fishing opportunities in the future, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is reducing the rockfish bag and possession limits in Cook Inlet and North Gulf Coast/Resurrection Bay salt waters to 3 per day 6 in possession, of which only 1 per day, 2 in possession can be nonpelagic. The Cook Inlet-Resurrection Bay Saltwater Area includes the salt waters enclosed by a line extending south from Cape Fairfield and a line extending east from Cape Douglas, including the Barren Islands, Cook Inlet, Kachemak Bay, North Gulf Coast, and Resurrection Bay. This change is effective starting Monday, May 15, and will continue through December 31, 2023.

In recent years, the harvest of rockfish in Cook Inlet and North Gulf Coast areas has increased substantially, and sustainable levels of rockfish harvest are currently unknown. On average, from 2019 through 2022, the total rockfish harvest in Cook Inlet salt waters was over 50,000 fish annually, which is over a 300% increase from the historical (2006–2013) average. In the North Gulf Coast/Resurrection Bay salt waters, rockfish harvest has nearly doubled since 2014, and the 2021 and 2022 harvests were higher than any previously documented. Most of this increase in harvest in both areas has been black rockfish.

“Rockfish are slow-growing and long-lived fish that are consistently found in the same locations,” stated Cook Inlet Area Management Biologist Mike Booz. “Because of these traits, rockfish are susceptible to overharvest with long periods for recovery, which requires a conservative management approach.”

With these increased harvest trends, there have also been declines detected in the biological compositions of black rockfish. The harvest of black rockfish in both areas has been comprised of a large percentage (60-90%) of juveniles, which has resulted in an 18-25% smaller average length in the total harvest compared to previous years. Although black rockfish stocks currently appear healthy, these increased harvest trends and changes in biological data indicate a possible change in the population structure and that current harvest levels may be unsustainable.

“If we manage rockfish more conservatively now, we may avoid further reductions or closures in the future,” stated North Gulf Coast Area Management Biologist Brittany Blain-Roth. “Anglers should also remember that the use of a deepwater release is not only mandatory when releasing rockfish but it is a valuable tool to increase survival when releasing rockfish at depth, versus at the surface.”

These changes in harvest and biological trends are assumed to be associated with a shifting of effort from Pacific halibut to other species by charter (guided) anglers due to reduced sport fishing opportunities associated with the Halibut Catch Share Plan. On February 6, NOAA fisheries announced its 2023 charter regulations, which close halibut fishing on all Tuesdays from June 20 through August 15 and Wednesdays for the entire season in regulatory area 3A, which includes Cook Inlet and North Gulf Coast salt waters. Additionally, preseason emergency orders have closed king salmon fishing in upper Cook Inlet and reduced the king salmon bag limit from 2 to 1 fish in lower Cook Inlet. Please review these emergency orders and advisory announcements in their entirety for specific regulatory changes. With these restrictions to halibut and king salmon, the effort will likely shift to other fisheries such as rockfish and lingcod.

For rockfish species identification information, visit our website. For information on rockfish deepwater release information check out this page.

For more information in the Cook Inlet area (Homer), please contact Area Management Biologist Mike Booz or Assistant Area Management Biologist Holly Dickson at 907-235-8191.

For more information in the North Gulf Coast/Resurrection Bay (Seward) area, please contact Area Management Biologist Brittany Blain-Roth at 907-267-2186 or Assistant Area Management Biologist Donald Arthur at 907-267-2225.