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Groundfish - Oregon’s Comeback Kid

Eat off the floor! The ocean floor that is. Groundfish live at or near the sea bottom; and include over 90 types of fish, including 64 species of rockfish, (AKA rock cod, red snapper, and sea bass), flatfish (like flounders, soles, and halibut), black cod (AKA sablefish), and lingcod.

Artwork by Newport-based artist Leighton Blackwell

How it Works

There are 4 gears commonly used on the Oregon Coast. The simplest way to harvest groundfish is by fishing pole. Another method is longlining with multiple baited hooks; one end of the line is anchored to the sea floor, the other end is flagged at the surface with a buoy marker. After a short soak the line is retrieved with the catch. In similar fashion, pot longlines use basket shaped traps on the ocean floor instead of hooks. Finally, groundfish can be caught by trawl, in which a net is towed through the water.


Pole & Line - Nearshore Rockfish, Lingcod

Longlines - Slope Rockfish, Halibut, Black Cod, Lingcod

Pot Longlines - Black Cod

Trawling - Rockfish, Sole, Black Cod, Lingcod, and many more

Is it Sustainable?

Management of the groundfish fishery has been one of the most intense in West Coast history. About 20 years ago the fishery was declared a federal disaster. Today the fishery has bounced back and is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which determines if the fishery meets the standards for 1) sustainable fish stocks, 2) minimizing environmental impact on other species and habitats, and 3) effective fisheries management.


Most species are managed through scientific stock assessments. Stock status is highly variable, but today all but one of the nine previously overfished species have been restored to healthy levels. Yelloweye Rockfish is the only species that is still in jeopardy, but according to managers it is rebuilding and not experiencing overfishing.


The hook and line and pot fisheries are inherently selective due to the nature of the gear. Nets have been modified to allow some unwanted species to escape. Implementing catch shares and the resulting individual accountability of fishermen have reduced bycatch to nearly zero.


Hook & line and pot fishing have minimal habitat impacts. Trawl net impact has been greatly reduced with gear regulations and the design of lighter gear. Areas closed to commercial fishing further protect sensitive habitats and spawning grounds.


Other management actions that helped this fishery recover include the permanent retirement of half of the trawl fleet, the reduction in quotas and season, and the creation of catch shares that allocate each boat a portion of the overall catch before the season starts, to end the race for fish.

Local Ocean's Paul Dunphy offloads rockfish in Newport.

Economic Impacts

Groundfish is my personal favorite Comeback Kid story. We are proud of the fleet and the managers that made the tough decisions to keep the fishery strong. But this all-American success story isn’t complete yet. While our groundfish populations have bounced back, consumer demand for our fish hasn’t.

Paul packing fresh black cod on ice.

Positively Groundfish reports that, “After years of absence from restaurant menus and retail cases, West coast rockfish and sole have been forgotten and replaced by other foreign whitefish species. Low consumer demand is now depressing prices as well as catch volumes. Today, only 20-25% of what could sustainably be harvested is actually being landed by our fishermen.”

Thank you for choosing DockBox and supporting our local fishermen and women. And when you shop for seafood, look for US seafood. This is the story of how fisheries are done right!

Local Ocean's classic Grilled Fish & Chips.

Want to eat more groundfish?

You can easily recreate our classic grilled fish and chips at home! Seriously, the hardest part is deciding between rockfish, lingcod, and halibut. View the recipe here.

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