OLYMPIA - Sport halibut fishers in Washington will be allowed to catch more of the big flatfish in 2004 than in 2003, although halibut fishing will remain off-limits in an area off the coast of La Push to protect depleted stocks of yelloweye rockfish, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The International Pacific Halibut Commission has set the overall Pacific coast halibut quota at 1.48 million pounds, up from 1.31 million pounds last year. Under that plan, Washington's sport anglers will see their portion of the coastwide quota increase from 237,739 pounds in 2003 to 278,883 pounds this year.
"This year's catch quotas are the highest ever off the Washington coast," said Phil Anderson, a special assistant to the WDFW director.
The increase in quota is the result of a decrease in the amount of halibut bycatch in the groundfish trawl fishery, coupled with new survey information for the West Coast area. Trawl bycatch estimates are calculated using data from the federal groundfish observer program. Anderson said the bycatch decrease is primarily attributed to recent depth closures in the trawl fishery.
Coastal halibut fisheries are managed on a quota basis, and fisheries remain open until a particular region's quota has been achieved. Recreational sub-area quotas for 2004 are 76,220 pounds for Puget Sound, 126,857 pounds for the North Coast, 61,565 pounds for the South Coast and 14,241 pounds for the Columbia River.
A yelloweye rockfish conservation closure will again be in effect for a portion of the Pacific coast off La Push to reduce the likelihood that halibut anglers will unintentionally catch yelloweye rockfish. Designated as "depleted" by federal fisheries managers, yelloweye rockfish are currently the focus of a long-term rebuilding plan.
Like the previous two years, WDFW will stagger seasons in two regions of Puget Sound, both of which will be open five days a week, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The fishery east of Low Point (Marine Fish Catch Areas 6-13) will open May 6 and continue through July 24. The fishery west of Low Point (Marine Fish Catch Area 5) will open May 27 and continue through August 14.
The Neah Bay/La Push fishery will open on May 11, five days a week, closed Sundays and Mondays, and continue until an estimated 91,337 pounds are taken. The fishery will reopen June 15, five days per week, closed Sunday and Monday, and continue until the remaining quota is taken.
The Westport fishery will open May 2 and continue until the quota is reached. The offshore fishery will be open five days a week, closed Fridays and Saturdays, through July1, then open seven days per week. A nearshore fishery in the area from the Queets River south to 47 deg. 00'00" N latitude and east of 124 deg. 40'00" W longitude will be open seven days per week
There is no minimum size limit for halibut in Marine Areas 2-13, which includes all waters from Westport through Puget Sound. All regions have a one-fish daily bag limit.
The Columbia River opens May 1 and will continue seven days a week until the quota is reached. There is a minimum size limit of 32 inches in Marine Area 1.
The yelloweye rockfish conservation area, closed to recreational halibut and bottomfish fisheries, includes the northern portion of the "halibut hotspot" off La Push. The closed area is defined by the following coordinates in the order listed:
48°18' N. latitude; 125°18' W. longitude;
48°18' N. latitude; 124°59' W. longitude;
48°11' N. latitude; 124°59' W. longitude;
48°11' N. latitude; 125°11' W. longitude;
48°04' N. latitude; 125°11' W. longitude;
48°04' N. latitude; 124°59' W. longitude;
48°00' N. latitude; 124°59' W. longitude;
48°00' N. latitude; 125°18' W. longitude;
and connecting back to 48°18' N. latitude; 125°18' W. longitude.