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Go for the Halibut – not the Rock fish. Here’s how to do it!

Rock Fish Descenders Courtesy ODFW

Rock Fish Descenders
Courtesy ODFW

Descender on a rock fish

Descender on a rock fish

NEWPORT – In one of the biggest conservation efforts of its kind in Oregon, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has mailed 3,500 packages containing a device to help saltwater anglers conserve rockfish and possibly extend fishing opportunities.

Nearly all boat owners who fish for halibut or bottomfish will receive “descending devices,” which can mean the difference between life and death for two species of rockfish that are not legal to keep.

Anglers sometimes unintentionally hook canary rockfish or yelloweye rockfish – species that are federally considered overfished and are therefore illegal to keep. These two species typically live in deeper water and have a gas-filled swim bladder. The gas expands as the fish are reeled to the surface, which makes it difficult for them to swim back down to deep water on their own. Since anglers can’t legally keep the fish, they return them to the water surface where they often float until a bird or other predator makes a meal out of them.

“A floating fish is a dead fish,” said Bob Hannah, ODFW researcher. Hannah and other ODFW biologists’ research showed that if these fish are returned to deeper water, the gas in their bodies is recompressed, and they regain their ability to return to and stay at depth, increasing their survival.

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While returning these rockfish to deeper water is good stewardship of their resource, anglers have an additional incentive to use descending techniques, more than ever before, because of a recent decision by federal fisheries managers. The fish released using a descending device will have a lower bycatch mortality rate applied to them than those released at the surface. If the allowable bycatch mortality for canary or yelloweye rockfish is met in a season, some fisheries could close early.

The package sent to saltwater anglers includes a Shelton Fish Descender, one of several devices on the market to return rockfish to their deep water home. The package also contains a letter explaining how and when to use the device and a fish identification brochure.

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ODFW partnered this project with the Oregon Coalition for Educating ANglers (OCEAN), a fishing group dedicated to preserving Oregon’s ocean resources. In addition to the devices being mailed out, OCEAN will have 1,000 devices for distribution at saltwater angling events to promote their use.

An additional 400 descending devices of another design are on their way to Oregon charterboat owners and skippers.

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