Oregon anglers who venture to Alaska for a crack at the so-called "barn-door" halibut might be better off staying home this year and fishing for our doggie-door-sized ones instead.
Southeastern Alaska's Pacific halibut quota is likely to be slashed, with a strong recommendation by the International Pacific Halibut Commission for a maximum size of 37 inches for the one halibut per day Alaska anglers will be allowed to keep in 2011.
Lynn Mattes, ODFW's halibut project leader, will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 7, outside of Newport to discuss possible open dates for meting out Oregon's 2011 sport-fishing quota of 187,506 pounds of halibut.
That meeting will be held at the Holiday Inn Express, 135 SE 32nd St., South Beach.
At issue is when and how many fixed open dates to set aside in the spring and summer fisheries that allow anglers to venture outside the 40-fathom line.
The open dates to be discussed involve the all-depth halibut fishery from Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain near Port Orford. Oregon waters south of Port Orford have no depth restrictions.
Anglers who do not attend the meeting can comment by calling Mattes at 541-867-4741, ext. 237, or by e-mailing him at email@example.com.
That means the biggest halibut you will be able to kill in Southeast Alaska will be about 23 pounds.
Instead of drop-shipping large coolers filled with halibut, you could take home your frozen filets in a carry-on bag.
"Those pictures you see out of Alaska with halibut as tall as a man? Well, that's not going to be happening," says Brandon Ford, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's marine program in Newport.
Here in Oregon, the halibut quota will actually rise a bit, though the 187,506 pounds of halibut set aside for Oregon's sporting and charter fleet pales compared to the 2.33-million-pound quota for Southeast Alaska.
The average fish caught by Oregon's halibut jiggers is 18 to 21 pounds — just a hair under the best catch you can keep in Southeast Alaska, according to agency records.
But there is no maximum size here. So just the spectre of being able to keep a 50-inch, 60-pound halibut could mean Oregonians won't venture past Newport or even Depot Bay in their quest for the tasty flatfish.
"People won't come up to catch a single 20-pound fish," says Andy Martin, a Brookings guide who works a halibut charter in Glacier Bay, Alaska, each May through September.
"If you can go out of Port Orford, catch your halibut and then go home to Medford that night, why go to Southeast Alaska to do the same thing?" Martin asks.
Glacier Bay is filled each summer with trophy-halibut hunters expecting a 100-pound halibut weekly, if not daily, Martin says.
While 100-pounders are newsmakers in Oregon ports, actually finding halibut under 37 inches is hard out of Glacier Bay, he says.
"Knocking the size down to 37 inches knocks out the charter fleet," says Martin, 34. "That's basically the same as closing the fishery."
The new limits are not yet set in stone, but the cement is drying very quickly.
Southeast Alaska's rules must be adopted by its fish and wildlife commission and formally approved by NOAA-Fisheries before the season opener March 12.
The process is similar to how ocean-salmon seasons fashioned by the Pacific Fishery Management Council are not final until the Department of Commerce signs off.
But the IPHC is the oldest treaty-based fishery organization and rarely gets trumped.
Still, Martin and others have launched a letter-writing campaign asking Congress to lean on Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to drop the provision.
The problem, according to the international commission, is that Pacific halibut in general have declined area-wide for natural and artificial reasons.
Slower recruitment rates, lower growth rates and regularly over-fished quotas in some areas "motivated" commission members to recommend that U.S. and Canadian governments shave 18.9 percent off the 2010 catch limits.
The international commission even cited the Southeast Alaskan fishery for its woes when chopping its quota and strongly urging the 37-inch maximum size.
Oregon, California and Washington were granted slightly larger quotas, in part because cutbacks in recent years seem to have helped the populations here, according to a commission report released Monday.
In fact, the biggest issue facing Oregon halibut anglers right now is whether to front-load more all-depth fishing days in the spring season and whether to have two-day or three-day blocks for when anglers can run into the best fishing grounds outside of the 40-fathom line.
Regardless, Oregonians will be able to keep their 23-pound dog-door halibut and be back in their own beds that night smiling.
"If you're going to call that a dog-door size, then it's going to be for a good-sized dog," Ford says.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.