You Can Help Recovery of Yelloweye 
& Canary Rockfish 



Protected Species : The Pacific Fisheries Management Council has declared that Yelloweye and Canary Rockfish be listed as on the decline from California to Washington State on the Pacific coast, have been eliminated from the catch and eat specie for protection until the population can rebuild.   Canary population has improved somewhat but Yelloweye has went down.  This puts the Departments of Fish and Game for these 3 states in a tailspin with Washington currently being the most out of balance.  They have to try to keep some of the other specie seasons open where fishing takes place in the same water depth.   Many saltwater sports fisherpersons used to be able to fish for Halibut or Ling Cod are now finding restrictions, not on the Halibut or Ling Cod they are targeting, but on Yelloweye or Canary Rockfish that inhabit the same area, thereby restricting the target specie.


Since in deeper water, you very well could encounter more than one specie.  It is known that Halibut and Yelloweye inhabit pretty much the same areas where sometimes Yelloweye may be also found in Ling Cod areas.  The one method WDFW has established to cut down on mortality of "Bycatch" is to restrict fishing in deeper water that these 3 specie are known to reside in, hence boundary restrictions determined by water depths.

Mortality on Released Fish :  Since you can not retain either of these 2 specie, you have to throw them back.  There is a mortality associated with throwing Yelloweye back of  100%.  This mortality of Yelloweye in a specified number of metric tons per state is what these states must stay within.  The weight used to calculate the average poundage is 5.72# for each Yelloweye and 2.64# for the Canary counted.   Canary are also figured at 100% if on a Halibut trip because of the deeper depth.  But at 66% if encountered on a Ling Cod or other bottomfish trip since the depth is shallower and a better recovery is expected.  The fish mortality numbers are gathered by the WDFW fish checkers at the docks when you come in.   These checkers, (mainly college fisheries students) go thru a training programand at least the ones I have encountered recently at Neah Bay are very knowledgeable as to specie identification if they see the fish.


The problem is that when you hook one and they come up from the depths where Halibut are normally taken, that they have closed swim bladders, that help produce sound and maintain  buoyancy, plus they hold nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide.    When pulled from a depth where there is lots of water pressure to none when they reach the surface, that they get the "Bends" the same as scuba divers, as the pressure changes and the gas molecules expand and rupture the fish's bladder.   The escaping gasses then fill the body cavity, forcing the stomach to protrude from the mouth, the eyes to bulge, and the intestines may pop out the fish's anus, usually in that order.   This can happen in varying degrees from one example to all, depending on the depth pulled up from.


Some tell you to bring them up slowly that the situation will not occur.  This is not really so, but surely won't hurt once you have them on the line, but possibly bringing them up from 200' or so, may not effect them until you get them above 66' and then above 33' really does the number on them.   It is not the depth, but the pressure difference as describe below.


Since in Washington and Oregon, it is illegal to retain these fish, when you throw them over the side, with this airbag holding them afloat like a lifejacket, they die, or get consumed by scavengers.   So the department fish checkers are instructed that for every one you acknowledge you caught, threw back, these fish, or a percentage, are counted as DEAD and goes against the mortality quota.  


The fish checkers totals will be about 30 days behind before they get tabulated & sent to the staff who watch the quota.  If it gets close to the mortality number, & there has been a lot of fishing, the totals may well be closer than thought, so sometimes a crystal ball comes into play.   The season may be changed in number of days, depth you may fish, or even totally closed down.  


Education of Fisherpersons May Help :   The real problem is that most casual fishermen can not really identify the different species of rockfish.  Many normal fisherpersons who do not get the chance to fish for Halibut or Ling Cod frequently enough, & may NOT KNOW for sure if what they caught was a Yelloweye, Canary, Vermilion or even a Copper Rockfish for that matter.   I am NOT suggesting here that you lie to these fish checkers, but what I am trying to show is that you need to do your research then try to become enlightened as to these fish identifications.


It is a lot easier to tell the difference while looking at these pictures where you have something to compare to, but on a boat miles at sea, with no reference, as memory can even be challenging to the younger person.  And making a decision on retaining a legal fish or sending one back down needs to be made as soon as possible.

I know one charter boat owner from that Illwaco tells his skippers to release ALL red bottom-fish because they could be on the no-no list.  In my mind he has his head up his lower anatomy in that he is being lazy and does not want to take the time OR responsibility to educate himself or his staff and they very well could be throwing back a keeper fish.


It is hoped that you do not feel compelled to become a macho guy and to answer yes, when the checkers ask if you caught any sea birds, Yelloweye or Canarys even though you may indeed did not.   Don't make the mistake of giving them a false high number of throw backs in hopes that they may rethink the low estimate population, thereby allow us to retain them next year.   If you along with others, falsely reported a catch that was counted against the mortality quota, your seasons may well be cut short because you did not do your homework and were ignorant of the specie identification.


In another light, the departments of fish and wildlife do not really know the lifecycles of these fish that well.   It seems the juveniles frequent shallower water then as they get older they move to the deeper water along with a slight color change.   At one time it was thought that the juvenile Yelloweye was another specie altogether.


This article is written with the hope that sportspersons may be better able to identify what they catch, and if it is one of the protected specie. you may decide to move to a different location, if more than one of the endangered specie is encountered.  Or at least be able to tell if it is a allowable fish then keep it without the chance of being ticketed for bringing home the wrong specie.   As you can readily see from the pictures below, not just the 2 specie listed as a non allowable retained fish show somewhat similar characteristics.   Plus a fish freshly pulled from the water may be a slightly different color that the pictures of these dead fish.


WDFW  Doing a Fisherman Training, Data Collection Kit :  The summer of 2006 in marine area 3 and 4 launches the WDFW has put together a ID kit.  This includes color ID fish pictures of Yelloweye, Canary and Vermillion Rockfish, a metric tape measure, a disposable camera, 2 ball point pens, a small clipboard for the data sheets alonmg with instructions.  This is all packaged inside a Rubbermaid plastic container.  The data they want recorded are Longitude/Latitude, depth in feet, length in centimeters, release method, picture number, and whether the fish floated away dead or went down or apparently survived.


WDFW  Yelloweye/Canary ID kit


One suggestion if you have the kit onboard would be to be prepared to use it if you are fishing in an ocean area where ANY rockfish may be encountered.   As if the fish is to survive, (which is the objective here) is to do the documentation, then quickly get the fish back in the water.   One observation when fishing even water shallower than 20 fathoms, you may encounter Canarys, and they seem to be more susceptible for the popped out stomach than their less colorful cousins that may be pulled right beside them at the same depth.


The spring of 2012 WDFW closed a "Deep Water" Ling Cod area in Martine Area 2.   My understanding this was because in September of 2011 some recreational fishers off Westport encountered numerous Yelloweye while targeting Ling Cod.  WDFW closed this area to Ling Cod fishing.  Some fishers were not happy in that they lost some good Ling Cod areas, but WDFW in working with the the Pacific Fishery Management Council to rebuild the Yelloweye and Canary stocks off our coast.  If they had not closed this area, we may have had a mortality in excess of the guidelines and the whole coastal bottomfishing.

OCEAN :  The Oregon Coalition for Educating ANglers (The OCEAN) has the primary goal of supporting conservation of and research on marine fisheries, as well as sponsoring and promoting activities to assist in marine fisheries management.  The education of marine anglers is one of the ways The OCEAN is working to achieve this purpose.  Right now the intent is make available on this website a course which marine anglers can take in order to learn more about marine species and how anglers themselves can assist conservation efforts.

The OCEAN intends to work closely with the staff of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), particularly the Department's Marine Program, to further activities and projects of the Marine Program and marine sport fishermen.   Their website is



Many Specie are Red/Orange Colored :  There are more colored fish than just these shown below, but these pictured are probably the most likely ones you will encounter.   It is suggested that you do your research homework, purchase the book, or at least print these pictures off and keep them on your boat.   The Copper rockfish shown in the lower section can be found in a dark form shown, or a brighter red form which places it into this category also.


Of those shown, when fishing off the Washington coast, the two most likely red fish you will encounter that are legal to retain would be the Vermillion and the red phase Copper rockfish, NOTE no yellow eye.


Adult Yelloweye Juvenile Yelloweye Canary Rockfish
The three fish shown above are on the ones of concern here

Vermilion Rockfish Aurora Rockfish Pacific Ocean Perch

Splitnose Rockfish Redbanded Rockfish Darkblotched Rockfish


Shortraker Rockfish Rougheye Rockfish Redstripe Rockfish


Copper Rockfish, dark phase Rosy Rockfish Blackgill Rockfish


The above fish pictures were taken from either  "the Guide to Northeast Pacific Rockfishes" by Donald E. Kramer & Victoria M. O'Connell &  published by the University of Alaska, August 1988, or Bill Barss, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife in cooperation with from Oregon State University.   Where any rulers are evident in these picture they are in metric.


Recovery :   There was a study done in California in 1995 by Albin & Karpov showing that 50% of released rockfish caught shallower than 20 fathoms, (120 feet) will survive.


OK you are fishing for Ling Cod in deeper water, and get a bite.


Preventative Method for Yelloweye :    You can by using a bait large enough (a Kelp Greenling of 3#) when Ling Cod fishing to discourage Yelloweye, help in this mortality and population recovery.  Simply use a larger bait.  Ling Cod WILL take large bait while Yelloweye will/can not.  Look at the photo below of a Ling Cod that has swallowed a pretty decent Halibut at Neah Bay in 2011.   Notice the fishing line coming out of the Ling Cod's mouth that is still attached to the Halibut.


WOW is that a mouthfull ?


Another thing you can do is understand how each fish reacts when hooked.  A hooked Ling Cod will never give up but fight all the way to the surface.  A Yelloweye will hard but will give up before long.  If you realize it is a Yelloweye, and during the bringing in process, slow down the process during the last 60' or so.  This is the critical point to where they need to decompress from being pulled from 400'.  Bring them in slowly but use one of the methods suggested below to send them back down, hopefully to recover.


To tell when you are at this level, use a line-counter reel or mark your line with a felt marking pen at the 60' point.



Box Method :   There have been many experiments conducted to try to decrease the mortality of these sport caught fish that have the ruptured bladder.  One is to captivate them inside a inverted weighted plastic milk jug basket, or a converted Danielson crab trap and lower them down below the somewhat magic 66' depth, allowing them to acclimatize back to the water pressure better than none at the surface.   Shown in this link produced by the Coastside Fishing Club in California, is a video clip of a Re-Compression Device (RCD),  here this method is in use with a underwater camera showing the results.  


Their experimentation is being conducted under a California issued Scientific Collecting Permit.  It involves two phases, one addressing the effectiveness of the RCD when used at various fishing and recompression depths (and times), and secondly addressing the long term health of recompressed fish.  This video may require a download on your computer to be able to view it.   This may take a while to download, but the results are worthwhile, however if you are not on DSL, it may be prohibitive.

Keep in mind that it is not the total depth that we're trying to deal with here, but the pressure change. This is one of the base concepts in SCUBA diving with regard to decompression sickness (the bends), and is the same concept here. 

Every 33 feet is one atmosphere, and the pressure doubles.   At a depth of 33 feet (2 atmospheres absolute), the pressure is DOUBLED from that at the surface. Another way of looking at it is that from the surface to 33 feet, the air volume in the air bladder will be reduced by HALF.  From 33 to 66 feet the air volume will be reduced in half again. So, at a depth of 66 feet (3 atmospheres absolute), the air that was expanded at the surface (1 atmosphere absolute) will be roughly 1/4 of the volume it was before. 

Fish should be able to handle this pressure change.  We could probably bring a fish up from 200 feet to 66 feet and the fish would be just fine.   It is the last 66 feet that really makes the impact, regardless of starting depth, and the last 33 feet what probably gets them. 

To put this in perspective lets use a starting depth of 264 feet & a volume of 1 cubic inch.  As we raise to a depth of 66 feet that 1 cubic inch turns into 48 cubic inches.  Significant, but not drastic when we're really talking about very small starting volumes.   But at the surface, that same 1 cubic inch will become 192 cubic inches.


Converting Danielson Crab Trap for an RCD :  Initially I was going to make a new bottom frame of 1/4" rod to the same size as the original bottom perimeter wire.   Since these are fold up units, you can snap the original bottom mesh screen grids off and re-install just the ring.   This will hold the sides in position as before but with no bottom.  You may need to add some weights to the new rod ring, or permanently to the lower sides.  In using this, you can interchange a bottom for crab or the no bottom ring for the RCD box.

However this makes a 24" square box, which may be larger than needed, which would possibly be in the way at times which may be left behind when needed.   I have now decided to utilize the same Danielson trap, but flop it upside down,  cut the now bottom wire grids out, cut out 2 grids from the sides and re-weld.  Then cut, again re-weld the top and bottom rings so that I have a 16" square box by about 12" deep with no bottom.  This way I can fold it up, get it out of the way when not being used, yet have a convenient size for it's new intended purpose.  The bridle on top will have 3 ropes making it balanced, so it will stay in position when lowered.   I currently use 50' lengths of 1/4" nylon rope for my crab traps, so 2 of these snapped together will suffice here.

Weight Method :  In operation, you hook this hook loosely in the thin membrane of the fish's lower lip, lower both fish and weight down to below 70' let it stay there for a few minutes, then jerk it up releasing the fish at the depth to where it will recover.   This simple method is to use a 2# plus weight where different weight cannonballs can be interchanged if needed.   This particular one has the swivel silver-soldered onto the stainless steel hook so it will not slip off.  


The above method may work well for smaller fish, but if you get to say a 15# Yelloweye, the word is even a 4# weight is not enough to over-ride the buoyancy of the inflated swim bladder and protruding stomach.   Therefore a venting situation may have to be employed also.


Milk crate /crab trap type method  Weight  method using removable cannonballs
Need a good picture here


Sheldon Fish Descender ;  That brings us to another product called the Sheldon Fish Descender.  The method here is to descend the fish back down to a depth where the water pressure is neared to where the fish was brought up from, allowing the inflated organs to decompress.  This can be accomplished by using one of the products designed by Bill Sheldon & sold under the name Sheldon Fish Descender, described on this website

Using the SFD as shown below, lower the fish between a minimum of 33 feet and the bottom before releasing.  At just over 30 feet the pressure will change by one atmosphere and will assist in recompressing the fishs air bladder.  This device keeps the fishs mouth slightly ajar and during the decent allows water to move across the gills to remove oxygen and pass CO2 to aid in quick recovery. 

The design is simple and has a S shape hook loop that hooks through the fishs lower lip and holds the fish securely until the line is pulled by a weight which turns the fish upwards and allows the SFD to pop out by the fisherman jerking the rod.  It jolts and shocks the fish at the time of the release and surges it forward when releasing to help the fish get safely on its way.   It also allows a positive finger controlled descent to counter the action of the up and down swells as they move the boat up and down.   When the fish has revived, it will signal you by tugging on the line when its ready to be released because it has sufficiently recovered or it senses danger from an approaching predator fish or a jellyfish.


Sheldon Fish Descender


Inset the SFD  into rockfish's lower lip through the thin membrane near a heavy part of the lip,
 with the straight section of the unit outward
Here a separate rod it set up to descend these fish, however you could use just a separate dedicated reel

This product has worked so well that Puget Sound Anglers helped WDFW purchase enough of these to be passed out to all boats participating in 2013 halibut season on the Washington coast where they proved the endangered Yelloweye could be sent back down safely that the WDFW allowed some restrictions relaxed.


Venting the Fish : An article taken out of Saltwater Angler Feb 2005, showed an experimentation that was popular at that time where studies by Florida's Mote Marine Laboratory and other scientific groups, reef fish caught in water depths from 70 to 200 feet have excellent survival rates if the swim bladder gases are vented.


Reef species with spiny rays have closed swim bladders that help produce sound and maintain  buoyancy, plus they hold nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide.   When these fish are reeled rapidly to the surface, the gas molecules expand and rupture the bladder.   The escaping gasses then fill the body cavity, forcing the eyes to bulge, the intestines to pop out the fish's anus and the stomach to protrude from the mouth.  If the gasses aren't released (or vented), the fish can't submerge, which makes it an easy target for predators.


This procedure was to use a sterilized large hypodermic needle to pierce into the body cavity behind the pectoral fin to allow the gasses to escape.  This requires more equipment and expertise than the average fisherman is interested in mastering, especially with a squirming, flopping fish.  And is not really recommended.


With the coastal deep water season, (halibut especially) in the Washington and Oregon waters using limitations on water depth, mortality quotas for Yelloweye and Canary Rockfish, there needs to be a step in the right direction, which ever that is, but geared toward a high rate of incidental caught fish survival.   However the WDFW does not condone the above method and prefer that you lower these fish to where the pressure will allow them to swim off on their own. 


Addition to WDFW 2006 Saltwater Regulations :  Page 101-102 - Marine Area 3 & 4,  20 fathom restriction clarification:

"No retention or possession of lingcod or rockfish seaward of line approximating 20 fathoms May 22-September 30 (except when Halibut is open), defined  by the following coordinates:

Beginning at the Bonilla-Tatoosh line, at 48 23.87 N; 124 44.17 W
Then to 48 23.60 N; 124 44.90 W
Then to 48 19.10 N; 124 43.40 W
Then to 48 18.20 N; 124 46.40 W (intersection with 3-mile line)
Then follow the 3-mile line south to the Queets River (47 31.70 N) "

The above regulations are to protect endangered Yelloweye & Canary rockfish. which are normally found beyond this 20 fathom (180') depth.  This however does not effect most near shore fishermen who target strictly sea bass & lingcod.  It however would limit you if you tried to fish for the deeper Ling Cod off some humps or rock piles beyond this closure line.




March 14, 2012


Lingcod fishing closed in portions of Marine Areas 1 and 2

Action: Close recreational lingcod fishing in deepwater portions of Marine Areas 1 and 2 year round, except as allowed in Marine Area 2 on days open to fishing during the primary, all-depth halibut season.

The coordinates of the closed area are as follows:

47 31.70' N. lat 12 45.00' W. lon

46 38.17' N. lat 124 30.00' W. lon

46 38.17' N. lat 124 21.00' W. lon

46 25.00' N. lat 124 21.00' W. lon

Effective date: March 17, 2012

Species affected: Lingcod

Location: Marine Areas 1 and 2

Reason for action: This rule is intended to protect yelloweye and canary rockfish, two species managed under rebuilding plans by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The closure will reduce the amount of yelloweye and canary rockfish that are incidentally caught when anglers are fishing for lingcod in deeper water.  This rule conforms to measures approved through the Pacific Fishery Management Council and federal rules adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Information contact: Heather Reed, (360) 249-4628 ext. 202



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Originated 12-11-2005  Last updated 12-26-2014
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