SEATTLE -- Seattle Aquarium biologists have returned 21 rockfish to their native waters.
The fish were captured over the last 20 years from Neah Bay at the northwest tip of Washington State. They were put on exhibit at the aquarium in tanks where they had to compete for food and territory. Biologists said that kept their wild skills and instincts sharp enough for them to make it back in the wild.
The aquarium has permits to capture small rockfish and other species for their exhibits highlighting Northwest waters. They have developed a plan that allows them to catch younger fish, let them get big and strong in the exhibits, then return and replace them.
At least two species of the fish returned to Neah Bay are on the Washington State Endangered Species list. Other rockfish are making a comeback after nearly being wiped out by overfishing in the past.
"It's time for these fish to go out and help repopulate the bay," said Tim Carpenter, the Seattle Aquarium's Curator of fish and Invertebrates.
Some of the fish his team released slowly swam around, getting used to the water, others headed straight down to the safety of the rocky reefs 40 feet down.
Carpenter said he expects them to be just fine. Team members say during collections they have seen other aquarium rockfish years after they were released into the wild.