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Delta in the Cowcod Conservation Areas

NOAA's Undersea Research Program - NURP
This story entered on 28th Jan, 2003 07:22:46 AM PST

In response to a drastic decline in population levels of many rockfish species and lingcod over the past several decades, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council established two Cowcod Conservation Areas off southern California in 2001. Within the Cowcod Conservation Areas, fishing for all groundfish is prohibited within 4,300 square miles, except in nearshore waters shallower than 20 fathoms (37 meters). This move is part of an international effort to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for the preservation and recovery of marine populations. However, there is growing concern in many quarters that mechanisms are not in place to assess whether the MPAs accomplish their intended purposes.

In the Cowcod Conservation Areas, a team of fisheries scientists and specialists in habitat mapping have begun an intensive program to assess the effectiveness of this MPA by determining the current status of the groundfish species and their benthic habitats. The research team is headed by Milton Love, the University of California Santa Barbara, and Mary Yoklavich, NOAA Fisheries, with scientists from the California Sea Grant Program, the California Department of Fish & Game, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and Washington State University.

During a highly productive 30-day research cruise in sunny, calm weather off southern California, the scientific team completed an astonishing 124 dives in the Delta, a manned submersible. These dives were systematic transects to visually inventory groundfishes, macro-invertebrates, associated habitats, and locations of fishing gear on the seafloor. The Delta visited every major offshore bank inside the Cowcod Conservation Areas, as well as, designated sites outside the conservation areas. One of the target species on the Delta dives was cowcod, a rockfish species with a current population at 4-11% of the unfished level. During dives, observers saw more than 250 cowcod ranging from 6cm young-of-the-year to a few enormous survivors larger than 100cm. The data for each fish species will be analyzed for fish populations and size distribution, habitat associations, habitat quality, and other characteristics that can establish a baseline for tracking effectiveness of the Cowcod Conservation Areas.

Funding for the Fall 2002 Delta dive program was provided by NOAA's Undersea Research Program's (NURP) West Coast & Polar Region Center with co-funding for scientific support from the Packard Foundation, NOAA Fisheries Offices of Habitat Conservation and Protected Resources, and NOAA's Marine Protected Area Science Institute.

More information, see the Love Lab Homepage on the University of CA, Santa Barbara Web site:

Contact information:
Name: Jennifer Reynolds
Tel: (907) 474-5871


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