Ocean anglers will have to stay close to shore for rest of year

Ocean anglers will remain inside the 20-fathom curve for the remainder of the year to curb the bycatch of yelloweye rockfish.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has opted not to open deep-water fishing grounds beginning Friday over fears that anglers could quickly fill the yelloweye quota for the season and force a shutdown until January.

"It was either stay inside 20 fathoms or shut down the fishery," says Brandon Ford, spokesman for the ODFW's Marine Program in Newport.

Anglers have been forced inside the 20-fathom line to waters 120 feet deep or less to steer clear of yelloweye. Though yelloweye cannot be kept by anglers, their bycatch in sport and commercial fisheries is monitored.

At issue is 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 the depths 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.

Anglers in July were moved to shallow waters to steer clear of these deep-water denizens. But enough yelloweye have been caught in other fisheries that the overall quota is close to being reached, Ford says.

"We're basically down to a couple dozen fish," Ford says.

Halibut anglers could see shorter near-shore fishing periods and a drop in the number of fishing days during Central Oregon's spring all-depth season under proposals being floated by federal fish managers for next year's seasons.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has adopted several proposed changes and is seeking anglers' comments on how to address what is expected to be lower sport-fishing quotas for Pacific halibut in 2011.

The proposals include cutting the spring fishery from three days to two, depending upon the number of fixed days scheduled, and juggling the percentage allocation between the spring all-depth, summer all-depth and near-shore fisheries.

The council is set to decide which approach to take during its November meeting. The quotas for next year have not yet been set.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Newport to take comments from anglers about which option they would prefer.

"We also want to have fishermen e-mail or call us and tell us which one of these options would be most palatable," ODFW Marine Program spokesman Brandon Ford says.

Comments will be accepted through Friday. Call Lynn Mattes or Patrick Mirick at 541-867-4741, or send an e-mail to either lynn.mattes@state.or.us or patrick.p.mirick@state.or.us.

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

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