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Black Rockfish PIT Tag Project

One of the most commonly caught fish in the nearshore recreational fishery is the black rockfish (Sebastes melanops). Newport is a popular fishing destination, which has the highest landings of black rockfish as well as other sport groundfish in Oregon.

Local abundance of black rockfish is a top concern of recreational fishers and fisheries managers alike. This long-term tagging study helps fisheries managers estimate population, migration, and growth rates of black rockfish. The data assists with stock assessments and adjusting regulations, such as bag limits, to maintain harvest of black rockfish and other species within annual harvest guidelines.


ODFW staff implant Passive Integrated Transponder tags (PIT tags) to mark black rockfish every spring from March to June. Twenty days at sea are needed to tag approximately 4000 black rockfish each year out of Newport. Since 2002, ODFW staff have tagged approximately 30,000 black rockfish and 2500 tags have been recovered.

Black rockfish are targeted by local charter vessel skippers with knowledge of rocky reef structures from Yaquina Head to Alsea Bay. Both professional and volunteer fishermen use traditional bottom fishing gear with barbless hooks to capture the black rockfish. Fish are first scanned for the presence of an existing tag, assessed for barotrauma (pressure-related) injuries, measured to the nearest centimeter, injected with a PIT tag, and re-scanned to record the PIT tag number. The injection site for the PIT tag is in the muscle tissue below the gill area; therefore tags can be recovered after the fish has been filleted. Fish are then released at the surface into the ocean near where they were caught.

Volunteer fishermen have been essential to this project for meeting seasonal tagging goals each year. If you would like to participate as a volunteer fisherman, please see the volunteer information section below.

Fish that can’t descend due to expanded gases in the body are released with the aid of a weighted recompression cage to a depth of 50 feet. See video Published studies (Parker et. al 2006, Hannah et al. 2007) indicate that returning black rockfish to depth quickly may be an effective method for minimizing mortality related to barotrauma. More information on barotrauma and recompression methods: Release Methods for Rockfish (pdf)

In the tag recovery portion of the project, ODFW staff meets recreational fishing vessels in Newport and Depoe Bay where fish are landed to scan for the presence of PIT tags using portable tag readers. PIT tags are undetectable by sight and have to be activated by the reader before they send out a signal. The recovery rate is generally 1 percent, or 1 out of 100 black rockfish landed in Newport. Since 2002, only four tagged fish have been recovered in Depoe Bay. Tag detection rates are tested and confirmed to be 98-100 percent. Both charter and sport fishing vessels are scanned for black rockfish PIT tags. Most of the marked carcasses recovered are retained to collect data on length, sex, maturity, physical condition, tag site placement and extraction of the tag by dissection.

There is a reward patch for anglers who land a tagged black rockfish.

Volunteer fishermen information

Are you interested in volunteering to see how many black rockfish you can catch for the PIT tag project? See if you qualify:

  • Each tagging trip is about eight hours long starting at 7 a.m., departing and returning to Newport around 3 or 4 p.m.
  • Trips are usually confirmed in less than 48 hours before departure, and typically occur Monday through Friday, from March to June.
  • Weather conditions can vary from pleasant to uncomfortable on any given day, therefore volunteers need to bring their own rain gear and food/water.
  • Those prone to seasickness should avoid these trips because of the extended time at sea which can be extremely uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous.
  • Marine fishing experience is preferred but not required.
  • Volunteer anglers may not keep any fish from these trips. Therefore no fishing license is required.
  • All volunteers are required to sign a liability waiver.see volunteer form A (doc)
  • Please view our U-tube video for a full explanation of the tagging process to better prepare yourself for a tagging trip (U-tube link).

Commonly caught species on nearshore fishing trips

Black rockfish
Blue rockfish
Canary rockfish [prohibited species]
China rockfish
Copper rockfish

Kelp greenling
Quillback rockfish
Red irish lord
Tiger rockfish
Vermilion rockfish
Yelloweye rockfish [prohibited species]
Yellowtail rockfish

Other resources for nearshore recreational fishing in Oregon

Central coast – Marine Recreational Fishing in Oregon (pdf)

Red Rockfish Identification Guide (pdf)

Release Methods for Rockfish


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