Anglers fishing for halibut in Washington waters can expect some changes in this year’s seasons, even though the state’s annual catch quota remains the same as in 2015.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) establishes halibut seasons using catch quotas adopted by the International Pacific Halibut Commission for coastal fisheries from California to Alaska. This year’s quota for recreational halibut fisheries in Washington state is 214,110 pounds.
As in years past, the growing popularity of recreational halibut fishing will require adjustments in this year’s season, said Heather Reed, WDFW coastal policy coordinator.
“Here and elsewhere, fishery managers are working to keep pace with the growing demand on the resource,” Reed said. “Strong catch rates continue to draw anglers to this popular fishery each year.”
One result, Reed said, is that the halibut catch in Puget Sound has exceeded the area harvest quota for the past four years. In response, this year’s halibut season in Marine Areas 6-10 in central Puget Sound will be reduced to eight days from 11 days last year.
That fishery will run concurrently with the one in Marine Area 5 (Sekiu), where the season has been limited to eight days since 2013, Reed said.
The other major change this year is in Marine Areas 3 and 4 (La Push and Neah Bay), which will open May 7, May 12 and May 14, then close for a catch assessment.
“Last year, we scheduled four days of fishing before the catch assessment, but we had to cancel the fourth day on short notice, because the quota was taken sooner than ever before,” Reed said. “This year’s season is designed to avoid that situation.”
This year’s fishery in Marine Areas 3 and 4 will reopen in late May if sufficient capacity remains under the quota.
In Marine Area 1 off the mouth of the Columbia River, anglers also reached last year’s quota earlier than expected, although not until early June. That fishery is scheduled to run four days a week this year from May 1 until the quota is taken, or Sept. 30, whichever occurs first.
Anglers fishing the nearshore area of that fishery will again be allowed to retain bottomfish – such as flounder and sole – as well as halibut on days when the rest of the area is closed to halibut fishing.
“We continue to look for ways to increase fishing opportunity in the Columbia River area where the catch has been below the quota in recent years,” Reed said.
In all marine areas open to halibut fishing, there is a one-fish daily catch limit and no minimum size restriction. Anglers may possess a maximum of two fish in any form and must record their catch on a WDFW catch record card.
Anglers should check the WDFW website for complete information on recreational halibut regulations and seasons at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/creel/halibut/
2016 Puget Sound halibut seasons
Marine Area 5-10: May 7, 12, 13, 14, and May 26-29. The quota is 57,393 pounds for the season.
Marine Areas 11, 12, 13: These areas will remain closed to halibut fishing to protect threatened and endangered rockfish species.
2016 Pacific Coast halibut seasons
Marine Area 1 (Columbia River): The fishery opens May 1 and runs four days per week (Thursday-Sunday) until the subarea quota is taken, or Sept. 30, whichever occurs first. The nearshore area opens to fishing May 2 on a Monday-through-Wednesday schedule, which are the days the all-depth halibut fishery is closed. Coordinates for the nearshore fishery are available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/creel/halibut/ The all-depth quota is 10,509 pounds; the nearshore quota is 500 pounds.
Marine Area 2 (Westport): The fishery opens May 1 and runs two days per week (Sundays and Tuesdays) for three consecutive weeks, unless the quota is reached sooner. The primary fishery is closed May 22 and 24, but could reopen May 29 or 31 if sufficient quota remains. The northern nearshore area will open May 1 and continue seven days per week until Sept. 30, or until the nearshore quota is reached. The quota for the primary fishery is 40,739 pounds; the quota for the northern nearshore fishery is 2,000 pounds.
Marine Areas 3 and 4 (La Push and Neah Bay): The fishery in both areas will open May 7 (Saturday), May 12 (Thursday) and May 14 (Saturday), as long as there is sufficient quota. Both areas will be closed May 19 and 21. If there is available quota, the fishery will re-open May 26 and/or 28. Additional days could be added (Thursdays and Saturdays), depending on the amount of quota available. The combined quota for both areas is 108,030 pounds.
Fishing regulations include depth restrictions and area closures designed to reduce encounters with yelloweye and canary rockfish, which must be released under state and federal law. Anglers are encouraged to use a descending device to release any rockfish they don’t intend to retain.
Information about descending devices can be found on WDFW’s webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/bottomfish/rockfish/mortality.html