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Cabezon season shortened

They are one of the ugliest bottomfish imaginable, and based on the laws of the bottom of the sea, that means they're also one of the tastiest.

With massive heads and lips like Mick Jagger's, cabezon — like rock stars — embrace the concept that the weirder you look, the more widespread your appeal is likely to be.

For the past nine years, Oregon's ocean anglers have gone overboard in their catching and keeping of cabezon, triggering in-season closures that have made cabezon off-limits to anglers as early as mid-summer.

Now after years of trying new ways to string the cabezon catch out deeper into the calendar year, Oregon fish managers have decided not to wait for the creel-checkers to signal a late-season closure on cabezon.

They're doing it before the season starts.

The former year-round cabezon season officially has shrunk to a seven-month season for 2012 to give these slow-growing bottomfish a little respite from Oregon frying pans.

Cabezon will be allowed as part of the 2012 seven-fish ocean aggregate limit from April 1 through Sept. 31, with the limit still one cabezon per day.

That eliminates the fall and winter months when cabezon spawn, aimed at having more of these white-fleshed bottomfish off the Oregon Coast in future years.

The cabezon change is one of a handful of significant changes for the 2012 ocean season adopted Friday by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The commission adopted two other changes to the groundfish seasons for 2012, with an eye toward providing more predictable seasons and reducing the number of early-season closures. The commission also scooted ocean anglers closer to shore during seven months of the year as part of the ever-growing effort to reduce the bycatch of yelloweye rockfish by bottomfishers.

From April through September, bottomfishers will see their hunting grounds shortened from the 40-fathom line to the 30-fathom line for rockfish species, but not for tuna or halibut.

Ocean anglers have had summer depth-based closures since 2004 to keep the charter and recreational fleets away from the over-fished yelloweyes. In three of the past four years, ocean anglers were pushed inside the 20-fathom curve, or waters 120 feet or less, in mid-year just to make sure the yelloweye catch didn't climb so high that the entire bottomfishing season had to closed.

The hope here is that sticking inside of 30 fathoms will keep anglers from being further pushed in toward shore next summer.

Find all the 30-fathom waypoints on the newly built Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website at www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/finfish/groundfish_sport/sport_fishing/index.asp.

When government taketh away, they on rare occasions giveth, as well. And that they did by dividing the coast into three sections, so any mid-season changes needed to protect over-fishing in one zone won't spill over into others.

If the commission decides next year to again push anglers closer to shore for bottomfish, it has the option of exempting waters south of Cape Blanco near Port Orford and waters north of Cape Lookout south of Netarts along the state's north shore.

Unlike the Central Coast, the extreme northern and southern stretches of the Oregon Coast have fewer shallow reefs that hold black and blue rockfish. The new zones would allow the commission to pinch Central Oregon anglers inward — to, say, the 20-fathom line — while allowing South Coast and North Coast anglers their full 30-fathom area.

The commission, however, insisted these new zones will apply only to in-season changes and will not be used to further divvy up catch quotas or set different fishing regulations based on where along the coast you're fishing.

As for cabezon, the 2012 recreational quota will be 17.2 metric tons — up from the 15.8 metric-ton quota for each of the past three years but below this year's actual catch of 18 metric tons before the season closed July 21.

A metric ton of cabezon is roughly the amount of big heads and Jagger-like lips needed to fill a full-sized pickup truck bed, a true cornucopia of ugly.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MarkCFreeman

Matt Blume, ODFW biologist, handles a cabezon during a black rockfish tagging trip last spring. - ODFW photo