The recreational groundfish season on the Oregon coast will close outside the 20-fathom line this Friday (July 15) in order to protect yelloweye rockfish, which are more common in deeper waters. Yelloweye rockfish populations along the west coast were declared overfished in 2002 by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and are managed under a federal rebuilding plan that limits harvest and other impacts, allowing the population to return to a healthy size.
Unusually high bycatch rates in the central coast all-depth halibut fishery and high effort in the bottomfish fishery so far this year have led to increased yelloweye rockfish encounters. In addition, the rate of voluntary descending device use has dropped from 80 percent in recent years to 60 percent in 2016. As a result, estimated mortality from catch-and-release is higher than expected, putting Oregon’s recreational fisheries on track to exceed the 2016 harvest limit before the end of the year.
Yelloweye in general live in deeper waters, so bringing the fishery inside 20 fathoms will reduce catch of this species, while allowing anglers to continue to fish for popular targets such as black rockfish and lingcod, according to Maggie Sommer, ODFW marine fisheries manager. Fish caught in shallower waters are also more likely to survive after release.
Because of their status, yelloweye rockfish cannot be retained by anglers and must be released if caught. ODFW encourages marine anglers to release all prohibited rockfish by using a descending device to safely return the fish to depth. Sommer noted that even fish which appear severely bloated can survive after being released at depth.
This practice also helps keep the fisheries open by reducing the percentage of released fish that fishery managers count as dead. Had descending device use in 2016 remained at 80 percent as in the past, projected mortality would have been within limits without having to implement the 20-fathom depth restriction. Using a descending device helps save fish and increases anglers’ fishing opportunities.
“This is another way that anglers can help us to recover the yelloweye population and keep these fisheries open,” said Sommer, who noted that there are several types of descending devices that can be purchased at tackle shops. ODFW has distributed some of the devices provided by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission free of charge to help encourage their use, and has a limited number more to hand out on the summer all-depth halibut days, when many anglers likely to encounter yelloweye rockfish in deeper waters are concentrated at boat ramps and marinas.
“We hope that by limiting the fishery to inside the 20-fathom line we can keep anglers fishing this year by keeping them out of areas where yelloweye are most common,” said Sommer. “Our goal is to return the sport groundfish fishery to all-depth in October as originally planned if at all possible. Increasing use of descending devices can help us get there.” At this time, the 20-fathom restriction is in place through the end of 2016 until further notice.
The central coast nearshore and summer all-depth halibut fisheries will remain unchanged. Halibut seasons are set by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the National Marine Fisheries Service, and cannot be changed in-season due to bycatch concerns under current federal rules. In public meetings on the 2017 halibut and sport groundfish fisheries to be held later this summer, ODFW will be seeking input on modifying the Pacific Halibut Catch Sharing Plan to allowing for in-season changes in the future.
Waypoints for the 20-fathom line may be found on the ODFW website at www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/regulations/sport_fishing.
Information and photo provided by ODFW