Devices help fish return to the deep

Nearly all Oregon boat owners who fish for halibut or bottomfish will be getting a free device that will help them effectively release two species of rockfish they occasionally catch accidentally.

In what it bills as one of the state's biggest conservation efforts of its kind, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has mailed nearly 3,500 of the so-called "descending devices" to private boat owners to help them successfully release canary and yelloweye rockfish — two rare species that cannot be kept off the Oregon Coast.

These two fish live in deep water and have gas-filled swim bladders that expand when the fish are accidentally hooked and reeled to the surface by anglers targeting halibut or other bottomfish species legal to catch and keep, says Brandon Ford, the ODFW's Marine Program spokesman in Newport.

The expanded bladders make it extremely difficult for the fish to return to deep water on their own, and those that don't are easy pickings for seabirds and other predators, Ford says.

But getting the fish quickly back to a depth of 100 feet or more will greatly increase their chances of survival, Ford says.

"These look for all the world like they're dead," he says. "But a high percentage will survive if you quickly get them back down to depth."

The Sheldon Fish Descender sent to anglers consists of a large barbless S-shaped clip that anglers hook to the lower lip of the canary or yelloweye, and attach a large weight 1 to 3 feet below the fish. Drop the fish over the side of the boat and then the weight, which pulls the fish down.

When it gets to at least 100 feet, a few wiggles of the rod usually frees the fish, Ford says.

"Some really big yelloweye will take 3 pounds of weight to get down," he says.

The ODFW is joined in this project with the Oregon Coalition for Educating ANglers (OCEAN), a fishing group working to preserving Oregon's ocean resources. In addition to the devices being mailed out, OCEAN will have 1,000 devices for distribution at saltwater angling events to promote their use.

Another 400 descending devices of another design will go to Oregon charterboat owners and skippers.

The devices were purchased using grant money from the ODFW's Recreation & Enhancement Program.

A Medford man was one of 11 Oregonians to win special hunting tags for this fall through the states' raffle program aimed at raising money for wildlife management here.

Michael Jahnke won the Southeast Oregon Deer tag that was one of four special deer tags fetching $45,487 worth of raffle ticket sales, according to ODFW.

Raffle winners were drawn at the Oregon Hunters Association state convention on May 18, in Lincoln City. A total of 71,538 raffle tickets were sold, grossing $165,601.

Along with 11 identical tags sold via auctions, the ODFW's Access and Habitat Program grossed $542,601 in sales this year. Of that amount, $319,578 will go toward funding access and habitat programs, and $185,323 will go toward big-game research and management.

The remaining $37,700 goes to the hunting organizations whose banquets hosted a tag auction. Under state rules, the auctioning group gets 10 percent of the winning bid.

The auction-sold tags and raffle tags give holders extended hunting seasons in specific regions of the state.

Kids will get a chance to test-drive everything from shotgun shooting to fishing to tomahawk throwing during an annual youth day at the Denman Wildlife Area in White City.

The Young Oregon Hunters Day will run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 8 and is sponsored annually by the Rogue Valley Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association.

The event at the wildlife area, 1495 E. Gregory Road, White City, is free to kids ages 5 through 16.

Kids in attendance will have a change to try archery, laser shooting, fishing, shotgun skills and tomahawk throwing. Wildlife Images Rehabilitation Center members also will be on hand with animals from its Merlin facility.

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