Pat Endicott holds one of 90 tuna caught by eight anglers on a trip last week from Bandon. - Submitted photo

Tuna haul bolsters rockfish season

Oregon's saltwater anglers appear poised to escape another mid-season bottomfishing closure, and if you think it's because fishing hasn't been good, then — sorry, Charlie.

An explosion of interest — and success — in tuna fishing this year has helped steer pressure away from black rockfish and other low-quota species that have caused mid-season shutdowns to Oregon's recreational fleet in two of the past three summers.

Record numbers of albacore have been landed at ports coastwide and have even caused regular flurries of interest in ports such as Brookings-Harbor, where albacore usually are 40-plus miles offshore and not accessible for most pleasure boats.

Tuna have come as close as four miles offshore at Depoe Bay and eight miles from the Chetco River mouth, close enough for anglers in small boats to get into the tuna action on calm days.

That's close enough to entice anglers such as Pat Endicott of Gold Beach, who last week ended 40 years of waiting for the chance to catch tuna. He joined seven other anglers on a Bandon charter boat, and the party brought home 90 tuna.

"I've been signed up to go a few times over the past 40 years, but every time my number came up the weather was bad or the tuna were too far offshore," says Endicott, 64. "This time I got to go and it was much more than I ever expected.

"It was an absolutely fantastic trip," Endicott says.

Stories like Endicott's helped edge this year's sport-caught tuna record past the 50,000-fish mark last week, easily eclipsing the previous record of 17,700 landed in 2004.

The average catch per angler was down last week from previous weeks to between four and five fish, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

That sort of success, coupled with good halibut fishing and decent salmon catches, have definitely taken the pressure off black rockfish, normally the bread-and-butter of the summer ocean season.

Already, ODFW biologists have seen anglers come into ports such as Newport carrying halibut, salmon and tuna all caught the same day, says spokesman Brandon Ford from the marine program.

"It's like the Oregon Coast triple-header," Ford says. "You've got to feel pretty good about yourself if you show up with those three species."

The only thing missing from a perfect day would be a limit of six rockfish, which cannot legally be landed on a boat with a halibut on board.

Last year, the recreational fleet limped through its first complete year-round rockfish season since 2003. Ocean anglers caught 2004's black rockfish quota by mid-August, triggering a first-ever shutdown of bottomfishing in Oregon waters just before Labor Day.

In 2005, the season stretched into mid-October before the quota was reached.

But reports show that reaching this year's black rockfish quota for boat-anglers likely won't occur, Ford says. This year, only a closure to the keeping of cabezon has occurred after that quota was reached earlier this month. But that didn't trigger a full-scale closure like the year when the black rockfish quotas were met because anglers can effectively practice catch-and-release fishing on cabezon.

Unlike cabezon, black rockfish have air bladders so they can suffer from barotrauma — expansion or rupture of the air bladder when the fish are brought up from deep waters — that can cause stress, injury, and sometimes death in rockfish.

Without those bladders, cabezon can fin back to their deep-water haunts with relative ease when released effectively. So no broad closures are needed to keep anglers away from killing more cabezon.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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