Oregon's offshore anglers will have the largest limit on black and blue rockfish in five years under an expansion of ocean angling rules.

Taking advantage of a 28-percent increase in the federal stock assessment on black rockfish, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has increased the daily rockfish limit from six fish a day to seven.

Adopted Friday, the new limit goes into effect May 1. It will be the highest limit since 2004, when anglers began the season with a 10-fish limit that was cut back to six rockfish a day to address over-fishing of the stock.

Bandon charterboat operator Wayne Butler, who serves on the state's Marine Sport Fish Advisory Committee, says Oregon's black rockfish harvest cap of 440 metric tons is enough to support a return to the 10-fish limit.

But concerns that the higher limit would increase pressure on other weaker bottomfish stocks led to the lower limit.

"It's a conservative approach to keep us from getting into trouble early," Butler says.

The committee had recommended an eight-fish daily limit.

The commission, however, has opted to start with the seven-fish limit to give Oregon the best shot at not repeating recent years that saw mid-season bag-limit reductions or fishing shutdowns, says spokesman Brandon Ford, of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Marine Program in Newport.

"We're being real conservative here because we don't want (NOAA-Fisheries) shutting down the fishery," Ford says.

The commission sets the rockfish limits each April and they are set to remain in effect until April 2010.

And what a difference a new stock assessment makes.

Last year, the season began with a six-fish daily limit and dropped to five black and blue rockfish July 7 after early-season anglers gobbled much of the state's quota of 318 metric tons of these popular bottom fish.

The intensive early fishing was attributed to a crash in the ocean salmon seasons, sending anglers to black rockfish for their saltwater fix. The bag limit was relaxed back to six fish a day in September, and anglers limped through the remainder of 2008 without a closure on black rockfish angling.

Butler says he expects no repeat of 2008, in part because of the upcoming fin-clipped coho salmon season that will be the largest off the Oregon Coast in 17 years.

"We're likely to see a lot more people shying away from the bottomfish," Butler says. "Maybe we'll end up putting the limit at eight (fish)."

As in recent years, anglers will not be allowed to keep the canary or yelloweye rockfish they catch.

This year's yelloweye by-catch target has dropped from 3.3 metric tons to 2.5 metric tons, meaning anglers will do themselves the most good by fishing inside the 40-fathom curve year-round.

Rockfish fishing is banned outside the 40-fathom curve April 1 through Sept. 30 to reduce the incidental catch on yelloweye rockfish.

The lingcod limit remains unchanged at two fish per day with a 24-inch minimum length.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.