Oregon anglers enjoy ocean fisheries' bounty
Beginning Saturday morning, Oregonians can motor out of their favorite coastal port, drop their crab traps and jig away for lingcod or black rockfish thanks to two record-breaking fisheries that carried this year's ocean angling.
Oregonians are about to complete only their second year-round ocean fishing season since 2003 thanks largely to an explosion of interest and success in the Pacific halibut and albacore tuna fisheries.
Anglers fishing out of Oregon ports caught 16,600 Pacific halibut, amounting to 2,000 more of the tasty, flat-bodied fish than the previous record in 2006, according to state marine statistics.
Ocean currents also brought the albacore close to shore, and anglers took advantage of it to the tune of landing 58,000 albacore — three times the record set in 2004.
Those activities captured enough interest to steer anglers away from traditional bottomfish like black and blue rockfish, meaning the state-imposed caps on these fish remain unfilled and offshore fishing for them is legal in December for the first time in three years.
Coupled with the start of recreational crabbing in the open ocean, only the weather report stands in the way of an Oregon-style fish-and-crab Saturday.
"It was such a spectacular year all around," says Chris Olson, owner of Newport Marina and Charters in Newport, Oregon's hub for halibut and tuna fishing. "It was a two-pronged effort to take the pressure off rockfish and keep people from hammering these near-shore reefs.
"Given the chance, recreational fishers will fish for anything but rockfish," Olson says. "So it's really nice to have what we've had, that's for sure."
Problems with rockfish numbers have plagued Oregon anglers and fish managers throughout this decade in which concerns over boosting these slow-growing species led to bag-limit cutbacks and the first-ever mid-season closures in 2004 after state-imposed quotas were met.
After a repeat of mid-season closures in 2005, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission dropped the bag limit on black and blue rockfish to six per day, and anglers limped through the 2006 season, largely thanks to bad weather that kept efforts down.
Anglers crossed their fingers, hoping to at least make it through the summer before the harvest cap of 359 metric tons was reached.
Then came the tuna, moving so close to shore during much of the spring and summer that even Oregonians with the least-seasoned sea legs could stomach a trip.
Tuna came as close as four miles offshore at Depoe Bay and eight miles from the Chetco River mouth at times, close enough for anglers in small boats to get into the tuna action on calm days.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife statistics show that anglers caught not only 50,000 albacore, they also landed blue-fin tuna, thresher shark and the first Dorado ever documented in Oregon.
All the while, they weren't fishing for rockfish. "When you're out fishing for tuna, it's drive out and get your tuna and head back," says Brandon Ford from the ODFW's marine program in Newport.
Ditto with halibut fishermen, who were banned from having rockfish on board while halibut fishing.
The result was that, to date, anglers caught just 71 percent of the black and blue rockfish quota.
Sport anglers did reach their season quota for cabezon, but the results were not troublesome, Ford says. Unlike black and blue rockfish, cabezon don't have swim bladders so they can survive catch-and-release fishing when caught in deep water.
Anglers recently nudged over their "other nearshore rockfish" quota, Ford says. But the catches of china, copper and quillback rockfish that make up this sub-quota should be negligible in December, Ford says.
"It's so late in the season and it would be so confusing to fishers to close just that part that we decided to let it ride," Ford says. "I don't think we'll go over all that much."