To answer an often asked question: No, this year's young-of-the- year index for rockfish will not have any impact on the fall fishery this year or next year and most likely not in 1993.
Glad you asked. Let's take it from the top.
Last October, limited fisheries were reinstituted under guidelines approved by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a federal group charged with equitable allocation of rockfish along the East Coast. Guidelines required that the young-of-the-year index reach a three-year average of at least 8.0 before the fishery could be reopened.
Under current ASMFC guidelines, however, a three-year average less than 8.0 would not result in the closure of the fishery. Instead, small- year classes would affect only the total poundage of fish that might be caught in a given year.
The 1991 class would not have an effect for at least three years. By then, the controversial baby boom class of 1989 might offset any shortcomings in the class of 1991.
So, the impact of the young-of-the-year index has changed somewhat. It remains an important measure of successful reproduction, but biological studies have refined the index and expanded its uses in managing the rockfish population.
"The benchmark we are looking for is to try to make sure we have the spawning stock out there that is comprised of all age classes," said William P. Jensen, director of fisheries for the Tidewater Administration, "so we don't fall back to where we were prior to the moratorium, when we were losing that distribution of age classes."
Before the moratorium, Jensen said, the spawn, which could run from late April to early June, had been contracted both in time and geographical area.
"We concluded that was because we had shrunk the spawning class to such a small age group that they were showing up, spawning once and were gone," Jensen said.
The number of rockfish that were available to spawn only once could not offset a below-average spawn such as the one that occurred this year, when there was minimal rainfall and water temperatures that were above the norm from early May through the summer.
But the spring survey of spawning stocks on the spawning grounds indicated that the adult population is continuing its recovery.
There are other factors which will have an impact on the continuing recovery of the rockfish and the rebuilding of recreational and commercial fisheries.
One is that the ASMFC rockfish management plan is still in the first of two phases and the catch rate along the East Coast is half of what it would be once the stocks are determined to be fully recovered.
"We fully anticipate, based on what we have seen in the spawning stock and the number of fish out there, that sometime soon we will be moving into that higher exploitation rate," Jensen said. "That means quotas effectively would be double what they are by today's parameters."