Record bottomfishing effort along the Oregon Coast has led state fish managers to drop the daily general marine fish limit from five to four in an effort to avoid an in-season shutdown like last year.
After a very busy May at coastal ports, anglers caught enough bottomfish to put them on pace to reach 2018's quotas on four species by late August or September, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Fish managers opted to drop the bag limit to slow down harvest as the peak summer fishing begins, hoping to avoid a season shut-down later this summer and fall.
"The main thing we've heard from anglers is to keep it open year-round and, hopefully, this will be able to keep the fishery open the entire year," said Lynn Mattes, ODFW's project leader in its marine program in Newport.
The general marine fish daily limit includes species such as black and blue rockfish, greenling and skates. Beginning Sunday, it will include cabezon, but only one of the four rockfish kept daily by an angler can be a cabezon.
By June 3, anglers also had used up almost half of the 3 metric ton bycatch quota for yelloweye rockfish, ODFW records show.
The change does not impact lingcod fishing or its two-fish daily limit.
Last year, ODFW did not set an in-season adjustment to the bag limit, and anglers met or exceeded their quotas on black rockfish and other species, triggering a Sept. 18 closure for all bottomfish species.
It was the first such closure since 2004. Though it occurred during the period when bottomfishing slows down after a busy summer, the closure caught charterboat captains and regular anglers off-guard.
In response to last year's shutdown, ODFW this year planned modeling catch rates more often to consider in-season changes to bag limits.
Thanks to heavy effort in March and May, Oregon Coast bottomfish anglers logged a record 40,619 trips, compared to 24,080 during the same period last year. That pace jeopardized hitting any one of several species quotas that would shut down the season early, Mattes said.
The record effort likely was the synergy of excitement to get back on the water when the season opened in January, good fishing weather and a better economy that generally leads to more coastal trips for anglers, Mattes said.
Biologists believe angler interest in offshore salmon seasons, particularly in Southern Oregon, where there was no salmon season last year, and the potential of albacore tuna moving close to the coast, could ease bottomfishing effort, Mattes said.
"Additional changes could be warranted, up or down," Mattes said.