Oregon's increasingly popular near-shore fishery for Pacific halibut closed last week along the northern and central coasts after anglers blew through the quota far faster than ever before.
Now the state's recreational saltwater fleet can have a say in whether future seasons get set with larger quotas available for anglers who don't want to wait for the all-depth openings to fish for these denizens of the deep.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will gather public comment over the next few weeks on how anglers would like to see the state's near-shore and all-depth halibut seasons crafted for 2013.
Public meetings are planned Tuesday in Portland, Aug. 6, at the North Bend Library and Aug. 7 in Newport to gauge how the public would like to see quotas and fishing days set for the various halibut seasons here next year.
The near-shore fishery closed Sunday night after anglers fishing north of Humbug Mountain near Port Orford caught 7,000 pounds of halibut in one week, says Brandon Ford, ODFW's Marine Program spokesman in Newport.
That closure came despite ODFW biologists transferring 5,000 pounds of unused quota from the spring all-depth season.
Under international treaty rules, states such as Oregon get a total poundage quota allocated annually and it's up to the states to determine how to divvy up that catch.
In the past, Oregonians have preferred more all-depth fishing days because it allows them to travel past the 40-fathom line after bigger fish.
But the popularity of the near-shore fishery could change that.
"They've just got it dialed in," Ford says. "Guys have found where the halibut are. It's become a nice little fishery for them.
"Whether it changes is up to the people to help us decide," Ford says.
The current closure does not impact Southern Oregon anglers, who fish from May through October with no quota or depth restrictions, largely because Pacific halibut fishing traditionally has been barely on anglers' radar screens there, Ford says.
Historically, most effort south of Humbug Mountain is in the late summer for California halibut, but public comments on the Pacific halibut season format for Southern Oregon also are being taken, Ford says.
But that doesn't mean the rest of Oregon needs to put the heavy halibut fishing gear away just yet.
The summer halibut season off the Columbia River mouth opens Aug. 3 and runs Fridays through Sundays until Sept. 30 — or earlier if that fishery's quota is reached, Ford says.
Also, the summer all-depth fishery from Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain opens Aug. 3 and will run every other Friday and Saturday until its 52,000-pound quota is reached. If weather keeps anglers at bay and unable to fill this quota, the season will close Oct. 27, but that is historically rare.
During the all-depth fishery, anglers normally use the opportunity to fish in waters deeper than 40 fathoms — the divider for what is considered deeper water.
However, anglers are not required to travel outside the 40-fathom line to catch halibut legally during these summer all-depth days, Ford says.
"All-depth means all-depth," he says.
Any fish caught near shore on those open days, however, applies to the summer all-depth quota, Ford says.
Public comments on the 2013 seasons will be collected through Aug. 8.
To comment without attending a meeting, call Lynn Mattes at 541-867-4741, ext. 237, or email email@example.com. Comments can also be directed to Patrick Mirick at 541-867-4741, ext. 223, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments can also be sent by fax to 541-867-0311.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email@example.com.