Oregon's growing population of halibut anglers may not get to replicate last year's record-setting catch, but they can get close to it this spring and summer under sport-fishing frameworks for 2008.
The International Halibut Commission has granted Oregon sport anglers a quota that is about seven percent lower than last year's quota, yet that still gives lovers of these flat bottom-dwellers reason to smile.
State marine managers and charter boat operators were poised to accept a 25-percent drop, but the commission penciled out the better-than-expected numbers during mid-winter meetings.
"That's not bad at all," says Brandon Ford, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Marine Division in Newport, which is the hub of Oregon's halibut fleet. "I bet you it works out this year to be very similar to last year — which is a good thing."
Stung by no chinook fishing and only a short season on fin-clipped coho salmon starting June 22, the recreational ocean fleet already has shifted its attention to black rockfish and the highly popular lingcod, whose numbers have rebounded well after crashing late last decade.
Now halibut likely will get even more attention from anglers looking to put a little salt in their fishing diet.
The near-shore season for Pacific halibut opens May 1 from Cape Falcon to the Oregon/California border and is open seven days a week. From Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain near Port Orford, the season runs through Oct. 31 or until the quota of 18,502 pounds of halibut are caught.
That includes the halibut-heavy Newport recreational fleet. Newport is the port from which the most Pacific halibut are landed in Oregon.
South of Humbug Mountain, there is no quota, and the season ends Oct. 31. The reason is that Pacific halibut catches tend to be light there most years.
The most coveted halibut-fishing days are during the all-depth openers during which anglers may go past the 40-fathom line and into the deeper waters where the best halibut can be found.
The fixed-open dates, usually set in clusters, are popular among Oregon's halibut anglers because they also allow early planning of fishing trips instead of waiting for last-minute word on whether halibut fishing is allowed.
This year's spring all-depth fishery from Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain sports a quota of 159,577 pounds of fish. The opening dates are May 8-10, May 15-17, May 22-24, May 29-31, and June 12-14.
The ODFW also has set the open dates should any of that quota remain. In order, the next possible open dates for the spring fishery are June 26-28, July 10-12, and July 24-26.
The summer all-depth season opens Aug. 1 and will run Fridays through Sundays during every other weekend until sport-anglers reach the healthy quota of 212,769 pounds of fish.
Like last year, the Stonewall Bank area 15 miles west of Newport is closed to Pacific halibut fishing, and boats with halibut on board are banned from the Stonewall Bank.
The daily bag limit is one fish of any size, and the annual limit is six halibut.
For updated information on Pacific halibut and whether extra days will be added to the all-depth fishery, call the National Marine Fisheries Service's hotline at 1-800-662-9825, then punch 5 and 1.
Others can check the information online at www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP.