Oregon ocean anglers face restrictions

BROOKINGS — Beginning today Oregon's ocean anglers will be forced to fish closer to shore and banned from keeping one rockfish species.

To avoid overfishing, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on Thursday ordered the recreational fleet targeting black rockfish and lingcod to stay within the 20-fathom line and fish only in waters 120 feet deep or less.

Since April, anglers had been allowed to fish inside the 40-fathom line but no farther out to sea to steer clear of rare yelloweye rockfish, which federal fishery managers consider to be an over-fished stock.

But recreational fishermen and charterboat anglers likely killed enough of the yelloweyes to require that they be moved closer to shore, where yelloweyes are less likely to be caught.

It's the first time since 2008 that ocean anglers have seen mid-season rule changes to black rockfish and lingcod — Oregon's two most popular bottomfish species.

"What we're tracking is similar to 2008, which was the last time we had to take action like this," said Lynn Mattes, the ODFW's recreational groundfish project leader based in Newport.

Also beginning today, anglers will be required to release all the cabezon they catch because catch rates so far have reached this year's state-imposed catch limit of 15.8 metric tons.

This marks the seventh-straight year that anglers have reached the cabezon quota before the end of the calendar year, and it is the earliest that the quota has been reached over that time, Mattes said.

Today's changes do not affect salmon or halibut angling, which are managed under separate rules.

At issue was the estimate of how many yelloweye rockfish have been killed so far this year by anglers, who are required to release yelloweyes they catch while fishing for other species such as black rockfish.

Once caught, the fish often die, because being brought to the surface from depths over 60 feet usually inflates their swim bladders, which keeps them from returning to the bottom.

Oregon's recreational rockfish season has operated on the assumption that two-thirds of the yelloweyes caught and released will die, Mattes said.

Oregon's recreational fleet began the 2010 season with a yelloweye quota of 2.4 metric tons.

But a federal judge ruled in April that the quota should be reduced coastwide, causing the drop in the number of yelloweyes that could be caught in Oregon before the restrictions were applied, Mattes said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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