Getting under way! Local scientists gear up to study reef fishes inside and outside of new North Coast MPAs

Joe TyburczyMarine Protected Areas

My colleagues and I (Humboldt State professors Tim Mulligan and Dave Hankin, co-investigator Drew Barrett, and HSU graduate student Ian Kelmartin) really appreciate the enthusiastic response we’ve received from HASA members and others who are interested in volunteering to help with monitoring research on rocky reef fishes of the North Coast inside and outside of the new marine protected areas (MPAs). We’re excited that so many folks have been enticed by the opportunity to be involved in this interesting research (including, of course, the free fishing trip) even though we’ll be releasing all the fish we catch. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the weather has been less than cooperative and our first set of trips planned out of Eureka had to be cancelled – but as all of you know, that’s just the way things go sometimes.

The goal of our project is to collect data that will help establish a baseline for rocky reef fish of the North Coast region, both inside and outside of MPAs. Through catch-and-release tagging, we will learn about the abundance, diversity, size, and movement patterns of fishes including rockfish, lingcod, and cabezon. We’re doing this by arranging trips on local charter boats for teams of volunteer anglers and scientists who will fish for a set period both inside and outside of MPAs. It’s a great opportunity to collect valuable information about our comparatively understudied stretch of coast – and will complement and expand a similar project conducted in this region by my HSU colleagues in 2010-11. The data we obtain will also be compatible with similar research being conducted inside and outside of MPAs of the Central California Coast and Oregon.

At each MPA and reference site, the four volunteer anglers will fish for a fixed period of 45 minutes (typically three 15 minute drifts) within each of four 500 x 500 meter grid cells that we’ve randomly selected from available rock bottom habitat with depths of 10-45m. This depth range is suitable for hook-and-line fishing, but shallow enough to reduce the risk of serious barotrauma. When fish are caught, we will record the GPS coordinates, species, and fork length, insert a T-bar tag, and then use a descending device to release them alive at depth. Handling and processing will be done as quickly as possible to minimize barotrauma and stress to the fish.

We’ll take charter boats from four ports to access four pairs of MPAs and reference sites:
The upcoming sampling trips we have scheduled are:

Eureka: June 26, July 2, (3), August 18, 19, (25)
Shelter Cove: June 3, 5, (9), July 7, (9), 14, (16), August 5, 7, (11)
(Dates in parentheses are backup days in case others are cancelled for weather.)

We’ll also be scheduling trips out of Fort Bragg and Crescent City during favorable weather windows – and will let our list of volunteers know as soon as we set those up. We may also be able to arrange carpools for volunteers from the Arcata/Eureka area to other ports.

Another way that HASA members and other anglers can participate is to keep an eye out for tagged fish. We’ll be using bright yellow tags about 2 inches long inserted near the dorsal fin. Anglers who catch a marked fish (whether you keep it or throw it back) are encouraged to call the phone number on the tag, and provide us with the following information:
– tag number and whether or not it was bio-fouled
– species and condition
– total length (snout to fork of tail)
– date caught
– GPS coordinates
– capture depth

In return, we’ll provide the angler with data on their fish: the time and distance it traveled since it was tagged, how much it grew, and some quick facts about its species. For each tag returned, anglers will receive one entry into a drawing for a $500 prize. Anglers who return five tags will receive a snazzy project logo t-shirt (we’re working on a great design).

If you would like to be added to our list of volunteers or have other questions about this project, please contact me, Joe Tyburczy, your local California Sea Grant Extension scientist (707-443-8369, Additional information about this research and other projects that are part of the North Coast MPA Baseline Program can be found online at: