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Open rockfish waters may expand

Oregon’s recreational bottomfishing fleet would be allowed to fish deeper water for a longer period under proposed bottomfishing rules up for a vote Friday by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.

An increase in the catch-and-release impacts on protected yelloweye rockfish has allowed the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to recommend fishing out to the 40-fathom line instead of the 30-fathom line during the restricted near-shore season, and starting that May 1, a month earlier than in past years.

Department biologists recommend a status-quo limit of five black rockfish per day.

The seasons and quotas are based on groundfish harvest specifications passed in June by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The spring and summer recreational fleet has been relegated to waters of 30 fathoms or less to push angling effort away from deeper waters favored by yelloweye rockfish, a stock that has been overfished and is off limits to anglers. However, because some yelloweyes are caught while targeting other species such as black rockfish and lingcod, West Coast anglers fish with a quota of incidental bycatch while yelloweyes rebuild.

Assessments last year showed that yelloweyes are rebuilding at a faster rate than expected, so the number of yelloweye that die after incidental catch and release — called the “allowable impact” — more than doubled for 2019 and 2020, according to an ODFW staff report.

That allowed more flexibility for when and at what depths anglers can fish next year.

The recreational fleet out of the Port of Brookings-Harbor remains the strongest in Oregon, with 14,534 angler-trips in private boats this year through September. The port’s charter fleet netted 3,561 angler trips on charter boats in that same time period.

The Chetco River bar at Brookings is calm enough to allow for the most boat crossings annually of any port in Oregon and Washington, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The commission Friday also will consider a revised petition to allow Rogue River spring chinook salmon anglers an extra month in which they could keep some of the wild spring chinook they catch.

The petition by two Curry County angling groups is nearly identical to one they submitted in 2017 that was denied by the commission.

A draft revision of the Rogue’s spring chinook management plan does not include expanded harvest. It instead calls for continued protection for early-run wild spring chinook.

The current petition asked the commission to move the starting date for anglers to keep wild spring chinook up a month on the lower Rogue from its current June 1 start to May 1 and conduct a five-year study on its impacts.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwriterFreeman.