Assessing population recovery inside British Columbia’s Rockfish Conservation Areas with a remotely operated vehicle
Between 2004 and 2007, Fisheries and Oceans Canada undertook a management action to conserve overfished populations of Inshore Rockfishes by designating 164 Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) closed to most recreational and commercial fishing. However, no research has yet assessed the effectiveness of the RCA network at promoting groundfish population recoveries. We surveyed the fish communities of 35 RCAs and adjacent unprotected areas in southern British Columbia using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) between 2009 and 2011. We investigated the effect of protection and habitat on fish densities for six species or species groups (Quillback, Yelloweye, Greenstriped Rockfish, Kelp Greenling, Lingcod and all Inshore Rockfish combined) on transects inside and outside of RCAs. Habitat features such as percent rocky substrates and depth influenced fish density while reserve status did not. Next, we calculated habitat-based average densities and used the mean log response ratio (RR) of the density inside to outside of RCAs to determine if the amount of fishing outside the RCA, previous fishing history, the age, area or perimeter to area ratio influenced population recovery. Few positive reserve effects were apparent for any species/group. No clear patterns of RR with age were found for the RCAs, which ranged from 3 to 7 years old at the time of sampling (mean = 4.6). In addition, the intensity of fishing, size, and perimeter-to-area ratio failed to explain RR for most species. There were also no differences in size structure (length) of fish between RCAs and unprotected areas. The results give little indication that demersal fish populations have recovered inside the RCA system. Ongoing monitoring is essential to assess population recovery over time and evaluate the RCAs in terms of criteria such as habitat quality, habitat isolation and the level of compliance in order to enhance their effectiveness.