Conservation status

Of the families covered in this chapter, the IUCN 2002 Red List includes nine species of the genus Cottus: one is categorized as Extinct (C. echinatus); two as Critically Endangered; four as Vulnerable; and two as Data Deficient. Sculpins and greenlings tend to inhabit rocky, marine shorelines that are less subject to alteration by human activities than estuarine habitats. For a species like the staghorn sculpin (Leptocottus ar-matus), which uses estuaries as nursery habitat for juveniles, habitat loss can affect populations locally, but the species as a whole is widespread and abundant. For many species that are rarely encountered by people, too little is known of habitat or true abundance to enable determination of conservation status. Where human developments eliminate all natural shore line, as in municipal harbor areas, intertidal fish species generally lose their natural abundance. It is not known whether greenlings and sculpins are any more sensitive to pollution than other marine fish species. In freshwater lakes and streams, sculpins tend to be depleted both by habitat destruction and by introduction of alien species, as well as by pollution. The widespread distribution of various species of Cottus has prevented extinction from occurring at the species level, but geographically significant populations do become threatened.

Only a limited number of these fishes are directly sought in fisheries as food for humans. In the cases of the cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus), the sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria), and the lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus), commercial fisheries have led to localized depletion that has necessitated fishing restrictions. In the cases of the cabezon and the ling-cod, extended periods of restricted fishing have not led to population recoveries to original levels of abundance. Overexploitation has tended to occur first in more densely populated areas along inland seas and more southerly waters of the Pacific coast of North America.

A recent trend in North Pacific fisheries is to land live fishes for Asian markets. The lack of a swimbladder and bottom-dwelling habits render species of greenling and sculpin hardy in this trade. In addition, the head and skeleton are recovered after filleting and used in making soup stock, so that sculpins with large heads are marketable in the live trade. Greenlings and larger sculpins that are of little value in traditional fisheries are becoming increasingly exploited for live seafood trade, owing to the higher prices paid for live fish.

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