Ocean anglers see new 5-rockfish limit

    Oregon ocean anglers have a smaller black rockfish bag limit in 2018, an attempt by fisheries managers to stretch out the ocean season and sidestep a repeat of last year's mid-season shutdown.

    The 2018 season began Monday with a five-fish general marine bag limit, down from six last year. This year's black rockfish quota is 1.3 percent lower than last year's.

    A massive spike in rockfish fishing last year, particularly in August, caused a complete shutdown of near-shore rockfish fishing in mid-September, the first mid-season closure in 13 years.

    Maggie Sommer, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's ocean fishing program manager, says she is "cautiously" optimistic that the reduced limit will allow anglers to avoid a mid-season closure.

    "Our goal is to provide a 12-month season, and we think this has a chance to get us through a full year," Sommer says.

    Sommer says ODFW will keep a close eye on rockfish landings during the season and will consider tightening catch restrictions if anglers gobble up too much of the quota like they did last year.

    "We'll reduce the bag limit to keep it open if we have to," Sommer says.

    But if effort and catch show that a return to the six-fish limit could be done without jeopardizing the year-long season by filling the 395.2-metric-ton quota, fish managers will consider that as well, Sommer says.

    "We want to give people the opportunity to catch the full quota," Sommer says.

    Last year saw a perfect storm of factors that led to a big boost in rockfish angling effort that exhausted the black rockfish quota rapidly, particularly in August.

    A dearth of ocean salmon-fishing opportunities, a lack of access to migrating tuna, good coastal weather and heavy inland smoke that drove anglers to the coast contributed to last year's September closure.

    If the same level of effort exists this year, computer-modeling shows, this season would end in September if the bag limit is not adjusted, Sommer says.

    The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission set the limits Dec. 8 after considering an ODFW staff proposal that would have split the year with different limits.

    The proposal was for a four-fish limit from April 1 through Sept. 30, and a six-fish limit during the remaining months. However, charterboat operators countered that a four-fish limit during their busiest months would curtail too many trips.

    The season has no fishing-depth restrictions until April 1, when anglers must stay inside the 30-fathom line. Also open is the long-leader rockfish fishery in waters deeper than 40 fathoms, which has the same 10-fish bag limit and gear restrictions that were enacted last fall after the the near-shore rockfish closure.

    Lingcod fishing also open. The limit remains two lingcod a day, with a 22-inch minimum size. As in recent years, the cabezon season does not start until July 1.

    Also new to Oregon anglers this year is an expansion of options for ice fishers on winter lakes.

    Anglers who buy the $24.50 two-rod validation get a new benefit while ice fishing. The validation allows ice fishers to have up to five lines in the water at any given time, but only when ice fishing through human-made ice holes. However, the extra angling opportunity does not change the daily limits on trout and other lake fish.

    Also, Diamond Lake is now officially a catch-and-release lake for both tiger trout and brown trout. The predatory species have been stocked in response to the return of illegally stocked tui chub to the eastern Douglas County trout mecca.

    — Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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