Halibut quota mirrors 2012

Oregonians can expect a near replica in 2013 of last year's ocean fishing season for Pacific halibut after area fish managers skirted what was expected to be a sizeable cutback in this year's catch.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission recently allocated a 204,000-pound quota for Oregon's recreational fisheries that will be divided exactly as it was in 2012.

That means 192,000 pounds goes to the central coast, 6,000 pounds are allocated to the Southern Oregon coast fishery south of Humbug Mountain and 6,000 pounds will match that of Washington for the Columbia River fishery.

Oregon ocean fishery managers were poised for a quota as much as 38 percent smaller than last year's because of concerns that Pacific halibut populations are declining throughout their deep-water range, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But ODFW managers and others argued that a provision in the Magnuson-Stevens Act says fish managers should consider economic hardship in setting quotas, and that a 38-percent cut in one year constituted a hardship.

The international commission agreed to apply this provision of the act, which is the main law governing marine fisheries management in the United States, and it gave Oregon's recreational fleet a virtual do-over of 2012.

"To have the same quota when we were expecting to get quite a bit less certainly feels good," says Brandon Ford, spokesman for ODFW's marine program in Newport. "So we really feel like we won the lottery this year."

But rarely does anyone win the lottery twice, and Ford says Oregonians can expect a decrease in their allowable catch and fishing days next year.

"I think we need to enjoy it while we got it," Ford says.

Marine program managers expect to recommend similar sub-quotas for the all-depth and nearshore fishing seasons, Ford says. What's left, though, is deciding how anglers want to see their fishing days broken out for the all-depth season favored by anglers targeting the biggest halibut, usually found in the deeper waters off Central Oregon ports of Newport and Waldport.

Anglers are being asked whether they favor two-day or three-day openers and what combinations of fishing days they prefer in the spring and summer all-depth fisheries, Ford says.

The agency will hold its traditional public meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Holiday Inn Express, 135 SE 32nd St., in Newport. But there are other ways for inland anglers to weigh in on these decisions.

An online survey will be available by Saturday at www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/finfish/halibut/index.asp. Comments can also be emailed to lynn.mattes@state.or.us or faxed to 541-867-0311.

Comments will be added to the materials used to recommend fishing dates to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, which is scheduled to adopt the seasons in March.

The catch in the all-depth fishery last year started off by averaging 14 pounds per halibut in early May and steadily increased to 20 pounds per fish in late August, ODFW statistics show. The entire all-depth fishery for 2012 showed an average catch of 17 pounds per halibut, down one pound from 2011, ODFW statistics show.

The nearshore fishery was quite different.

Weekly catches in May and June averaged as high as 25 pounds per halibut and never dipped below 19 pounds in the spring fishery. Keeper halibut averages bounced around in the high teens for most of the summer, then finished with 20-pound averages, statistics show.

The overall average size of near-shore halibut last year penciled out at 20 pounds, which is three pounds shy of the 2011 average, statistics show.

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

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