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SEASON OPENER A HELP TO SOME.

Byline: Keith Lair Staff Writer

Party-boat operators say it is about time the rockfishing season is finally open.

But now they're wondering, what took so long?

After an eight-month closure, the California Department of Fish and Game opened the season for rockfish Tuesday for points south of Point Mendocino to the Mexican border.

For anglers and party-boat operators along the Channel Islands, there's a huge sigh of relief. For anglers from Santa Monica Bay on south, it's more like, Why now?

``It was a matter of life or death,'' said Sam Markel of Ventura-based Captain Hook's Sportfishing. ``Without rockfish, we were pretty much shut down for eight months.''

But in the waters off the L.A. and Orange County coasts, slightly warmer waters allow for more pelagics; anglers can concentrate on other species.

``It's a nice welcome, but we really don't need it,'' Norris Tapp, manager of Davey's Locker in Newport Beach, said of the opening. ``We can go after other kinds fish at this time of the year.''

On Tuesday, boats out of Davey's Locker were targeting sand bass, calico bass and barracuda. Yellowtail and white seabass will be among the hot species in coming weeks.

The DFG, following guidelines set by the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees the status of all groundfish, allows fishing for black-and-yellow, China, grass, gopher, kelp, cabezon, rock greenlings, lingcod, sculpin, whitefish and sheephead in waters 120 feet or less. That will increase to 180 feet of water Sept. 1. The take of cowcod, bocaccio and yelloweye rockfish remains prohibited.

The PFMC decreased California's limits in rulings last July in efforts to reduce the annual harvest of the depleted rockfish.

``What's nice about this is that for the angler who spends $50 to $150, before, for all intents and purposes, they might come back with an empty bag,'' Tapp said. ``At least if nothing is biting, we can move to some structure and catch rockfish.''

On Tuesday, several on his half-day boats brought back sculpin.

In the Channel Islands, many boat operators argued to no avail there had not been a diminishment of groundfish. One landing, Cisco's of Oxnard, closed in part because of a pair of closures. The landing called it quits in a lease fight, but rockfish and National Park closures also played a part in its closing, several operators said.

``It's hard to justify the (rockfish) closures after what the research has turned up,'' Captain Hook's Markel said.

He said angling business is still way off.

``We still need help,'' he said.

When the water was cooler this year, Tapp said he had the same problems.

``In the fall and spring, it was tough,'' he recalled. ``People would pull up fish and we'd have to tell them to toss it back.''

There is a mixed-bag limit of 10 fish. Of those, only two can be shallow nearshore rockfish, three cabezon at least 15 inches long, two kelp or rock greenlings at least 12 inches, two lingcod at least 24 inches, five sculpin at least 10 inches and five sheephead at least 12 inches.

Keith Lair, (626) 962-8811

keith.lair(at)sgvn.com
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 3, 2003
Words:523
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