Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission reduces daily bag limit to eight in effort to keep season open longerTo provide year-round sport fishing for groundfish next year, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has reduced the daily bag limit of marine groundfish to eight, plus two lingcod.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife closed sport groundfish angling Sept. 3, because fishers reached the harvest cap for black rockfish. This was the first time that the season didn't last the full year.

The commission voted Friday to reduce the limit of the marine bag effective Jan. 1, including black rockfish and other species of rockfish, greenling and cabezon, from 10 fish a day to eight. The daily limit on lingcod will remain at two.

In making the change, commission members followed the recommendations of the Marine Sport Fish Advisory Committee, even though department modeling showed reducing the bag limit to seven rockfish was more likely to ensure a year-long season. Sport anglers and charterboat operators testifying before the commission said they understood the risk in the eight-fish bag limit and were willing to work with ODFW if a mid-season bag reduction was necessary.

Eight species of groundfish caught by anglers in Oregon waters are managed using harvest caps - five imposed by the federal government and three state-imposed caps. This year's sport groundfish season was cut short just before Labor Day when anglers hit the federal harvest cap of 342 metric tons for black rockfish. The fishery for cabezon retention closed Aug. 16 when anglers reached the state harvest cap for that species.

Reducing the marine bag limit to eight will not ensure that the 2005 fishery will stay open for the entire year. Increased angler effort or good ocean conditions could propel the catch for one or more of the eight species above the harvest cap before year's end.

ODFW fishery managers will monitor how the fishery is progressing and may, in consultation with the Marine Sport Fish Advisory Committee, reduce the bag limit further in mid-July to avert closing the season early.

Anglers and ODFW staff at the meeting agreed that 2004 was an exceptionally good year for groundfish. Charterboat operators testifying before the commission said they didn't want the lower bag limit if weather and other factors in 2005 were not as favorable as this year. They said they were taking voluntary action to reduce the number of fish they take by not allowing deckhands to keep fish and only fishing for the advertised time - instead of staying out until everyone on the boat catches their limit.

ODFW staff held public meetings in Brookings, Bandon, Newport and Tillamook and received many additional suggestions via e-mails, phone calls and letters on the groundfish closure and what the 2005 season regulations should look like. Charterboat operators expressed concern that a lower bag limit would hurt their ability to book customers on charters.

During the season, ODFW will provide public access to harvest information through its Web site and communication with the ports. ODFW will also have an in-season review with the Marine Sport Fish Advisory Committee.

The commission also approved a year-round fishery for shore-based anglers and shore-based divers in the event of an early season closure for boat anglers. The shore fishery has a relatively small impact on black rockfish and lingcod and little or no impact on the remaining species with harvest guidelines. This requires a small set-aside of about eight to 10 metric tons of black rockfish and five to 10 metric tons for lingcod.

In other groundfish action, the commission set harvest caps, trip limits and logbook requirements for the commercial nearshore fishery. This fishery primarily targets rockfish, greenling, cabezon and other groundfish species.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is the policy-making body for fish and wildlife issues in the state. The seven-member panel meets monthly.