It's a conservation and fishery management success story that fishermen, chefs and sustainable seafood lovers are celebrating. Rockfish, a genus of more than 70 different species, have rebounded and are now finding their way on to the menus of the top chefs. Telling the story of the West Coast rockfish is important, because it promises to inspire fishery managers elsewhere to use similar strategies to rebuild other depleted fisheries.
Rockfish are harvested under an integrated fisheries management plan in which catch shares or quotas are set for all of the directed and non-directed (bycatch) species to ensure that they are harvested within the total allowable catch (TAC) limits established preseason by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans based on research surveys funded by industry. The fishermen are individually accountable and must ensure they have adequate individual transferable quota (ITQ) for each and every species they catch.
To ensure compliance with this system, fishermen must hail out and hail in their fishing trips, log their catch daily, and provide for the 100 per cent at-sea electronic monitoring that records their entire catch of directed species and non-directed bycatch. When the vessel has completed its fishing trip, its landings are subjected to mandatory dockside validation in which an independent, government-certified service provider verifies the quantity of each species offloaded. The fishermen bear the entire cost of the at-sea catch monitoring and dockside validation and have adjusted their fishing practices to avoid species at risk in order to better achieve conservation objectives and sound resource management. This catch accounting system has been described by the Marine Stewardship Council as "one of the most rigorous in the world". Organic Ocean only supplies rockfish that is harvested as directed catch or non-directed bycatch in independently eco-certified sustainable hook-and-line fisheries.
Typical of the more abundant and commercially available of the rockfish species are the Silvergray (Sebastes brevispinis), Greenstriped (Sebastes elongatus), and Yellowtail (Sebastes flavidus). Found along the length of the Pacific coast, rockfish typically weigh two to seven pounds and reach up to two feet in length. They are viviparous giving birth to live young that live in eelgrass, eating zooplankton, shrimp and krill. As they mature, the rockfish move into deeper waters where they perch on rocks or hide in rock crevices and feed on a diet of crustaceans, small fish and invertebrates like squid. They tend to be solitary and minimally migratory, but not territorial.
Led by celebrity chefs Rick Moonen of RM Seafood in Las Vegas and Ned Bell of the Four Season's Yew seafood + bar in Vancouver, the culinary community is enthusiastically promoting the rockfish's comeback and challenging consumers to try this absolutely delicious fish. The genus name for rockfish – Sebastes – is derived from Sebastos which is Greek for magnificent and aptly describes the flavor of rockfish which is characterized by a lean, white, and flaky textured flesh as befits deep-dwelling cold water species. Whole fish is often crispy-fried in oil to take advantage of the rockfish's firmness or steamed Asian style to highlight the delicate flavor. Rockfish are great grilled simply and served with lemon and salt the way they do in the Mediterranean. The heads and bones of rockfish make fantastic fish stock because they are very lean and clean tasting. Rockfish are also good raw in sushi, "cooked" by citrus in ceviche, or chopped in a tartare.