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Bottomfish angling closes for the year Sunday

A hot year for recreational bottomfishing will come to an abrupt halt Sunday night when the season closes because the annual black rockfish quota will have been met for the first time since 2004.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced the closure Tuesday for any species of rockfish, lingcod, cabezon and greenling. The ban is species-wide so it applies equally to boat anglers and jetty casters.

Remaining open, however, will be angling for ocean flatfish such as sanddabs and halibut, including along the South Coast. Other species such as surf perch also are unaffected.

A 10 percent drop in this year's black rockfish quota, heavy angler interest in bottomfishing, a lack of ocean-salmon opportunities, more fishable weather and other factors such as a stronger economy and sweltering inland heat waves that drove anglers to the coast all likely played a role in the closure, according to ODFW.

"Those different factors combined to give us a very high landings rate," says Caren Braby, manager of ODFW's Marine Resources Program in Newport.

"Rockfish stayed on the bite all summer, and we had excellent weather to get people out," Braby says.

Through August, anglers logged an estimated 92,500 angler trips, well above the recent yearly average of about 77,000 trips, Braby says.

Even though just the rockfish quota is filled, the recreational fishing ban was enacted to protect against incidental catch and catch and release mortality.

The charterboat industry met Tuesday's decision with surprise and, in some circles, anger that state marine managers allowed the hot season to run through the quota without first cutting the numbers of black rockfish anglers can keep a day.

Charterboat operator Andy Martin of Brookings says captains in July were discussing with ODFW managers about a mid-season adjustment from seven black rockfish to ensure no full shutdown.

"We knew something was going to be in the works," Martin says. "Nobody likes to see the season close.

"I'm just grateful it happened in September and not August or July," says Martin, who focuses on in-river and in-bay salmon fishing in the fall.

Braby says marine managers figured that some bag-limit adjustment was likely, to perhaps three or four black rockfish per day in September, especially after July catches were available in mid-August.

"That's when it was clear that we had no choice but to make some sort of change in September," Braby says.

An exceeding large fishing effort in August "made it even worse," Braby says.

When August numbers were available Friday, it became apparent that the black rockfish quota of 386 metric tons would be gone by the end of this week, so a limit adjustment was no option, Braby says.

"That kind of management action was no longer effective," she says.

The ODFW is now steering coastal anglers to bay crabbing, a strong surf perch population, tuna and near-shore halibut fishing to fill the void.

The halibut season from Humbug Mountain south to the Oregon border is scheduled to remain open through October. Ocean salmon fishing north of Humbug Mountain is scheduled to remain open through October, or until that quota is filled.

Though it's the first mid-season bottomfishing closure in 13 years, Oregon has regularly flirted with closures as recently as 2015. That year, however, poor fall weather caused a dearth of fishing interest and Oregon was able to limp through the remainder of the year without hitting the black rockfish poundage quota.

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