Groundfish Sport Angling Halted

A huge haul of black rockfish has Oregon close to its annual limit,
forcing a decision to stop fishing for lingcod and greenling, too

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Andy Dworkin
The Oregonian

Oregon wildlife officials said Monday they will halt sport fishing for rockfish, lingcod and greenling for the first time, a conservation move that will significantly hurt the coastal economy.

After a hastily called Monday meeting, Department of Fish & Wildlife leaders decided to ban all saltwater sport fishing for major groundfish beginning Friday -- just before the popular Labor Day fishing weekend. It will be in effect until the end of the year

A massive August haul of black rockfish -- sport fishers took about 24 tons a week -- means state regulators find themselves on the verge of hitting Oregon's annual limit. By Friday, the state probably will exceed its 377-ton yearly sport limit for black rockfish, said Patty Burke, manager of Fish & Wildlife's Marine Resources Program.

Commercial fishers, who have separate and lower groundfish limits, can continue catching the species. But the move crushes charter companies, especially skippers with smaller boats that work closer to shore, prime groundfish territory.

"It's devastating," said Chris Olson, who runs Newport Marina Store and Charters.

Charter skippers have many thousands of dollars worth of groundfish trips booked through September, he said, which must be canceled.

"This is basically our profit time of the year, when we're trying to make enough money to make it through the winter," he said.

Olson said he wished the state had warned of the black rockfish problem weeks ago, when fishermen could have limited their catch to extend the season. But Burke said state officials discovered the problem after they processed estimates on sport fishing through Aug. 22 and had to move quickly.

The state also is two tons away from its 121-ton lingcod annual sport fishing limit, Burke said. Had that been the only problem, she said, the state would simply have banned taking lingcod, which have a good chance of surviving if they are caught and released. Black rockfish do not fare well if caught and released because their sensitive air bladders are stressed by depth changes of more than 60 feet, she said. Consequently, the state banned all sport fishing for groundfish to avoid the possibility of overfishing the black rockfish.

Olson estimated most coastal charter businesses make 80 percent to 90 percent of their revenues from May through September. By late August, most of those businesses have just broken even for the year, he said. They count on a big Labor Day weekend, and a good September, to turn a decent profit. Olson and other captains now must contact people who planned to fish for groundfish this weekend and cancel.

Many good fishing opportunities remain off the coast despite the ban, such as chinook salmon, halibut and tuna. But charter captains generally charge much more for those longer, deeper-water trips, Olson said. Many people who scheduled a trip would not want to change to other species, he predicted.

Burke said state officials "tried every way to look at the data so we could keep it open over the weekend." But fishers had been taking about 12 tons of black rockfish every August weekend, so there was no way to allow Labor Day fishing and stay within the limits, she said.

Andy Dworkin: 503-221-8239;