Rockfish testimony in oil drilling debate

Legislators in DC debate oil drilling this week, while an article on the discovery of a wrecked barge sunk to the bottom of Monterey Bay in 1990 asks, “Where can you get the most bang for the marine conservation buck?”

While the wreck has considerable historic and recreational value, the divers say, its greatest significance may be as a refuge for marine life.

Rockfish of the size and species that teem on the wreck have experienced drastic population declines in recent years, and severe fishing restrictions have been implemented to protect them. […]

The wreck provides some empirical evidence supporting divers, anglers and conservationists who champion the creation of artificial reefs off the California coast as a means of boosting fish populations.

Their opinions, however, are by no means unanimous. Many environmentalists challenge the concept, saying ships and oil platforms require lengthy and expensive decontamination procedures before they can be safely used as rockfish condos.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in its last Fishery Bulletin on a study that showed eight of California’s offshore oil and gas drilling rigs may account for 20% of the juvenile rockfishery. Sebastes paucispinis was an economically important rockfish species until overfishing reduced the population down to 7.4% of its previous size. Skeptics be warned: the rockfish lobby may be behind the current push for opening federal waters to increased oil and gas drilling.