OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is making changes to the recreational halibut fishery on Washington's Pacific coast so anglers won't have to choose between going after the big flatfish and this year's bonanza of chinook salmon returning to the Columbia River.
Fisheries managers have rescheduled halibut fishing in prime areas to a Friday-through-Saturday schedule, accommodating the Sunday-through-Thursday chinook fishing schedule in the same areas.
The new schedule, which takes effect Friday, July 12, covers Marine Area 2, including the Westport-Ocean Shores area, and Grays Harbor south to Leadbetter Point and west out to the 40 fathom line (240 feet deep). The western boundary corresponds to a GPS reading of 124.27 degrees west longitude.
Additional halibut-fishing opportunity will open seven days a week from Grays Harbor north to the Queets River and out to the 40 fathom line.
Phil Anderson, WDFW special assistant for intergovernmental resource management, said the changes are designed to address lower-than-anticipated halibut landings in the recreational fishery, which began May 1 and runs on the same weekly schedule as chinook salmon fishing in the Westport-Ocean Shores area.
"We underestimated the effect that the early coastal chinook opening would have on the halibut fishing effort," Anderson said. "A large number of anglers who would normally continue fishing for halibut switched over to chinook fishing, and that has left a significant amount of this year's halibut quota available for harvest."
Anderson said fisheries managers also made the changes so anglers have access to both the well-known "halibut hotspot" – an area more than 30 miles north of Grays Harbor and several miles off the coast – and to areas closer to shore that are open on days when chinook fishing is closed. This will give anglers on smaller private vessels an opportunity to catch halibut.
Halibut fisheries in these areas typically have low encounter rates with yelloweye rockfish and other groundfish species, which are currently under conservation measures, Anderson said. A stock rebuilding plan for rockfish is being developed by state, tribal and federal fisheries managers, and includes a reduction of incidental by-catch during halibut fisheries.
Fish retention rules are the same for all halibut fishing: There is a one-fish daily limit, with no size restriction. The fishery will continue under the new format until the remaining halibut quota is reached.