Rockfish are really cool, but they’re in trouble right now because they’re being overfished. Fortunately, there are some people who are working really hard to help their populations recover.

In fact, rockfish have the Vancouver Aquarium’s Vice-President of Marine Science, Jeff Marliave, on their side. Jeff and his assistant, Paul Malcolm, are doing all sorts of projects to help rockfish. Paul has already spent over 100 hours underwater studying rockfish. That’s like being in the water for over four days straight!

To see what Jeff and Paul are up to, check out the latest update from the Howe Sound Research and Conservation Group.
Rockfish are really cool, but they’re in trouble right now because they’re being overfished. Fortunately, there are some people who are working really hard to help their populations recover.

In fact, rockfish have the Vancouver Aquarium’s Vice-President of Marine Science, Jeff Marliave, on their side. Jeff and his assistant, Paul Malcolm, are doing all sorts of projects to help rockfish. Paul has already spent over 100 hours underwater studying rockfish. That’s like being in the water for over four days straight!

To see what Jeff and Paul are up to, check out the latest update from the Howe Sound Research and Conservation Group.

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

Look below the surface! Go diving with Aquarium researchers as they seek the elusive rockfish. Follow this link .

Jeff Marliave:

My name is Jeff Marliave, and I’m the fish research scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium. I have a team that works in both a laboratory where we raise baby fish, and goes diving out in the field where we look at the natural history of the same animals.

One of the types of animals that we like to display to the public in the Vancouver Aquarium; rockfish include a great many species, about three dozen species in British Columbia, rockfish are a concern near the shoreline because a half dozen inshore species of rockfish, including the quillback, copper rockfish have been seriously depleted in recent years.

Vancouver Aquarium Presents:

Taking the Plunge: Rockfish Conservation

In February of 2004 the federal government set aside nearly 100 Rockfish Conservation Areas. The Aquarium had the latitude to immediately start surveying the abundance of rockfish in four Rockfish Conservation Areas in Howe Sound, just outside of Vancouver. The rule is, that inside a Rockfish Conservation Area, no harm can come to rockfish. You can go diving, you can do a number of things, but there is no hook-and-line fishing for any kind of fish.
Today we’re diving off the west side of Popham Island because we’re inside one of the Rockfish Conservation Areas. We know that there are a couple of very good reefs off the west side of Popham Island and we want to get accurate counts of the numbers of rockfish on these particular rock piles.

Donna Gibbs: So we’re too far east, right?

Jeff Marliave: No, we’re too far west, according to this.

New zipper, old suit.

Shiny new pretty suit. There you go.

It takes a few minutes to get into a dive suit and get it properly adjusted. It’s very important the neck seal and wrist seals are perfect otherwise you’re going to have a flooded suit, and a miserable cold dive. Two divers who know each other and work well together can be extremely effective. If one diver has any kind of trouble, the other diver there will keep the person calm, and it’s very important to be able to work together if you’re working with any kind of gear underwater.

Not everybody’s comfortable diving; it can be kind of scary. You tend to get a sense of claustrophobia being trapped in all this gear, if you lose your balance you can actually not know which way is up. For a lot of people, getting the next breath is the only thought you have.

The last glacier that came through gouged over hard and soft rock and left these two nearby pinnacle areas, both of which have slides of lose rock rubble. That’s the kind of habitat that rockfish can hide in. That’s were they like to live.
We saw a good abundance of just one species, and almost entirely mature adults. Those were quillback rockfish. That’s the kind of population you want to see protected so it’s wonderful to get that kind of a broodstock population inside of a Rockfish Conservation Area.

Donna Gibbs: Are you Ok?

Paul Malcolm: Yeah I’m fine.

Jeff Marliave: So you told me there was a tiger under a rock right?

Conor McCracken: Yeah, I found a tiger.

Jeff Marliave: And up top there was a vermillion.

Conor McCracken: I got a juvenile too, I got some things you didn’t get.

Jeff Marliave: Ok, so then 15 coppers, plus your coppers, plus a vermillion…I put down your tiger. That’s good. That was a good count.

Through time, we will see the abundance of rockfish increase inside Rockfish Conservation Areas and we’ll see more and more big, mature, pregnant females, and we’ll know that little baby rockfish are being exported all along the coast with the currents.

Through research, Dr. Marliave and the dive team hope to learn more about the habits of rockfish, and the types of habitat that need protection in British Columbia.

Special Thanks:
Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Don Garnett
Bernie Hanby

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.


If you had gone diving off the coast of British Columbia 30 or 40 years ago, you would have found yourself in the middle of so many rockfish that it would have been hard to see past them. Once you'd settled in and stopped moving, whole schools of rockfish would have swum up to check you out.

Today, many dive sites have much fewer rockfish. Most of those regal old rockfish have been caught. The rockfish that are left usually hide when they see something coming towards them.

Scientists want to help rockfish become numerous again. The first step: find out how many we have right now so that we can tell when our efforts start working.
If you had gone diving off the coast of British Columbia 30 or 40 years ago, you would have found yourself in the middle of so many rockfish that it would have been hard to see past them. Once you'd settled in and stopped moving, whole schools of rockfish would have swum up to check you out.

Today, many dive sites have much fewer rockfish. Most of those regal old rockfish have been caught. The rockfish that are left usually hide when they see something coming towards them.

Scientists want to help rockfish become numerous again. The first step: find out how many we have right now so that we can tell when our efforts start working.

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

Counting fish in the ocean isn’t like counting cars on a street. Scientists can’t just pull up a chair and watch them go by. They have to use fishing nets, take submarines, operate underwater robots, or bravely zip up their drysuits and go diving.

Jeff and Paul like to dive right in when it comes to counting rockfish. That way, they can get up close and personal with the fish. This amazing experience serves an important purpose – it lets Jeff and Paul keep track of how many rockfish there are and where they’re hanging out. To make a bigger splash, they sometimes take an underwater video camera with them.
Counting fish in the ocean isn’t like counting cars on a street. Scientists can’t just pull up a chair and watch them go by. They have to use fishing nets, take submarines, operate underwater robots, or bravely zip up their drysuits and go diving.

Jeff and Paul like to dive right in when it comes to counting rockfish. That way, they can get up close and personal with the fish. This amazing experience serves an important purpose – it lets Jeff and Paul keep track of how many rockfish there are and where they’re hanging out. To make a bigger splash, they sometimes take an underwater video camera with them.

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

Jeff and Paul have spent a lot of time looking for rockfish, so they know where the rockfish like to hang out. When Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans set aside Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) where no one could take rockfish, Jeff was able to help.

The government had made an RCA near Popham Island, but Jeff knew that there was a place with a lot of rockfish just outside the protected boundaries. He asked the government and the sports fishing community to include that spot in the RCA. That way, the rockfish there would be safe from being fished.

The RCAs were started in 2004, so it’s too early to see if they’re keeping the rockfish safe. But Jeff and Paul have already noticed more rockfish in other areas near Vancouver that have been protected from rockfish fishing for awhile now. It’s cool to know that rockfish do come back if we leave them alone!

If you’re a diver in the Vancouver area, you can help Jeff and Paul count rockfish both inside and outside RCAs. Check it out!
Jeff and Paul have spent a lot of time looking for rockfish, so they know where the rockfish like to hang out. When Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans set aside Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) where no one could take rockfish, Jeff was able to help.

The government had made an RCA near Popham Island, but Jeff knew that there was a place with a lot of rockfish just outside the protected boundaries. He asked the government and the sports fishing community to include that spot in the RCA. That way, the rockfish there would be safe from being fished.

The RCAs were started in 2004, so it’s too early to see if they’re keeping the rockfish safe. But Jeff and Paul have already noticed more rockfish in other areas near Vancouver that have been protected from rockfish fishing for awhile now. It’s cool to know that rockfish do come back if we leave them alone!

If you’re a diver in the Vancouver area, you can help Jeff and Paul count rockfish both inside and outside RCAs. Check it out!

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

A face-on view of a quillback rockfish

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.


In B.C., baby quillbacks hide under drifting kelp until they turn into adults. Baby tiger and copper rockfish hang out with them too.
In B.C., baby quillbacks hide under drifting kelp until they turn into adults. Baby tiger and copper rockfish hang out with them too.

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

Can you imagine knowing where rockfish are swimming even if you can't see them? Jeff and Paul can, thanks to the same sort of technology used in cell phones. Right now they’re keeping track of a few special rockfish in West Vancouver.

Rockfish radio

These black rockfish carry a tiny, harmless tag in their bellies that sends out a unique sound signal every so often. Receivers placed on the ocean floor pick up these signals whenever a tagged rockfish is near. That way, Jeff and Paul can tell whether the rockfish are moving around or if they just stay put.

Tagging their territory

Black rockfish used to live in West Vancouver, but they were fished out. The tagged rockfish were brought from the west coast of Vancouver Island to West Vancouver to build a new population there. The tags let Paul and Jeff know that the rockfish are still around even if they’re living in deeper waters now and can’t be seen. So far, it looks like the immigrants are sticking around th Read More
Can you imagine knowing where rockfish are swimming even if you can't see them? Jeff and Paul can, thanks to the same sort of technology used in cell phones. Right now they’re keeping track of a few special rockfish in West Vancouver.

Rockfish radio

These black rockfish carry a tiny, harmless tag in their bellies that sends out a unique sound signal every so often. Receivers placed on the ocean floor pick up these signals whenever a tagged rockfish is near. That way, Jeff and Paul can tell whether the rockfish are moving around or if they just stay put.

Tagging their territory

Black rockfish used to live in West Vancouver, but they were fished out. The tagged rockfish were brought from the west coast of Vancouver Island to West Vancouver to build a new population there. The tags let Paul and Jeff know that the rockfish are still around even if they’re living in deeper waters now and can’t be seen. So far, it looks like the immigrants are sticking around their new home.

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

Two SCUBA divers descending an anchor chain

Photo: K. Wong

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.


Paul and Jeff spend a lot of time in their drysuits, but maybe they should consider adding capes to their outfits. After all, they fight crime.

The crime

Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) have been set aside to stop people from fishing for rockfish in important rockfish hotspots. Some people continue to fish there anyway. Either they don’t know that they’re in a no-fishing spot, or they don’t care. Unfortunately, a fisher can make a lot of money selling rockfish, whether it was caught legally or not.

The heroes

Paul and Jeff spend a lot of time explaining how important it is to stop illegally catching rockfish. They’ve even set up signs (in five different languages!) at some of the poachers' favourite fishing spots. Hopefully, the signs will let fishers know that it’s not okay to fish there.

The hotline

But Paul and Jeff can’t be everywhere at once. They n Read More
Paul and Jeff spend a lot of time in their drysuits, but maybe they should consider adding capes to their outfits. After all, they fight crime.

The crime

Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) have been set aside to stop people from fishing for rockfish in important rockfish hotspots. Some people continue to fish there anyway. Either they don’t know that they’re in a no-fishing spot, or they don’t care. Unfortunately, a fisher can make a lot of money selling rockfish, whether it was caught legally or not.

The heroes

Paul and Jeff spend a lot of time explaining how important it is to stop illegally catching rockfish. They’ve even set up signs (in five different languages!) at some of the poachers' favourite fishing spots. Hopefully, the signs will let fishers know that it’s not okay to fish there.

The hotline

But Paul and Jeff can’t be everywhere at once. They need help from the public to make sure that the fish poachers are stopped. If you’re in British Columbia and see someone fishing by a no-fishing sign, call the number listed on the sign. You don’t need to be a superhero to save a fish! Find out how you can prevent poaching.

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

A side view of a tiger rockfish

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.


Go behind the scenes at the Vancouver Aquarium with research diver Paul Malcolm. Follow this link .

Behind the scenes with Research Diver Paul Malcolm

Monica: Hi, my name is Monica Stewart, and I’m a youth volunteer here at the Aquarium, and today I’m going to be interviewing Paul Malcolm, a diver for rockfish research here at the Aquarium.

Monica: So Paul, how much trouble are the rockfish in?

Paul: I guess you would call it a crisis. My boss, Dr. Jeff Marliave, thinks it’s probably the biggest ongoing crisis in B.C. fisheries. They have been overfished and their populations are at extremely low levels of abundance compared to what they have been historically. Rockfish are interesting fish because a lot of them can live for well over a hundred years, much, much longer than we can. They may only have three years per hundred years where conditions are right for strong survival.

Monica: And how does your work here at the Aquarium help protect rockfish?

Paul: Fisheries and Oceans Canada has, in the last year and a half, set aside a number of areas called Rockfish Conservation Areas where all fishing activities that might cause rockfish mortality are banned. And what we’ve been doing is going into these areas and surveying the numbers of rockfish there. We’ve also been surveying other areas that aren’t protected, and we hope that the data we give them will influence which areas are best suited for Rockfish Conservation Areas.

Monica: If you could share your experiences and knowledge about rockfish, what’s one thing you’d tell people that they probably don’t know about rockfish?

Paul: You catch a rockfish and it dies. That’s like one of the weird things about rockfish. You get, it’s not like salmon they can reel it up and let it go.

Monica: Oh, because of the pressure?

Paul: Yeah, there’s a few species that it doesn’t have that effect on, but the majority of them, if you catch it that big, it’s like dead when it hits the surface.

Monica: What has your favourite rockfish diving experience been?

Paul: I don’t think one particular rockfish experience has impacted me so much as just the general experiences I have diving with rockfish. Like, they have personalities to me now. Not to anthropomorphize too much, but, I don’t know, there’s something about a little fish being so bold as to just swim into your face. Yeah, I like rockfish now. I like them a lot. And I think before I worked here, I was fairly indifferent to them. But yeah, I always look forward to seeing them.

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.


"Magnificent black belt" is the meaning of the tiger rockfish<s scientific name, Sebastes nigrocintus. You can easily recognize tigers by the dark bands on their bodies.
"Magnificent black belt" is the meaning of the tiger rockfish<s scientific name, Sebastes nigrocintus. You can easily recognize tigers by the dark bands on their bodies.

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • familiarize himself with the vocabulary used in biology;
  • assess human impacts on biodiversity, and identify ways of preserving biodiversity;
  • describe how personal actions help conserve natural resources and protect the environment in their region;
  • demonstrate an understanding of the dynamic nature of ecosystems.

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