Halibut fishing to open May 2 under higher halibut quotas

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Heather Hall, (360) 902-2487

OLYMPIA – Anglers fishing for halibut in Washington waters will have more halibut to catch during the 2019 season compared to recent years.   

Recreational halibut seasons announced today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are based on a statewide quota of 277,100 pounds, up by an average of 19 percent over the past three years.

Those fisheries are set to get underway May 2 in both state coastal waters and in marine areas 5-10 in Puget Sound.

Heather Hall, WDFW coastal policy coordinator, said the higher annual catch quota is the result of a new fixed allocation for fisheries in Washington, Oregon, and California approved by the International Pacific Halibut Commission in January.

Hall said that unique approach will allocate a total of 1.5 million pounds to halibut fisheries off the coast of those three states each year through 2022, barring any "substantive conservation concerns."

"The Makah Tribe proposed a fixed quota for all recreational and commercial fisheries, not just for tribal fisheries," Hall said. "That initiative will help to stabilize fisheries in all three states."

Hall said the 2019 season is structured similar to recent years, with many of the fishing areas open at the same time. However, Hall noted that WDFW met with stakeholders last fall to establish halibut season dates that accommodate preferences in each management area.

Through that process, WDFW staff learned that Saturdays are important for the north coast (Neah Bay and La Push), while a Sunday opening is generally preferred on the south coast (Westport). The opening in the Columbia River subarea reflects requests that season dates overlap with those on the south coast off Westport. 

Unlike previous seasons, anglers fishing for halibut in Marine Area 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) will not be able to retain lingcod incidentally caught when fishing for halibut seaward of the 120-foot depth boundary. Hall said the depth restriction is designed to protect rockfish species, including yelloweye rockfish, which are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

"Higher halibut quotas in the next few years will likely mean more fishing days, which increase the chance that anglers fishing for halibut will encounter ESA-listed rockfish," she said. "If we continued to allow lingcod retention outside of the depth restriction in Marine Area 6, it could affect rockfish recovery."

However, lingcod retention will still be allowed seaward of the 120-foot depth restriction in Marine Area 5 (Sekiu), which is outside of the area where yelloweye rockfish are listed.

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 halibut in any form while in the field, and must record their catch on a WDFW catch record card. There is an annual limit of four halibut.

Because halibut fisheries are managed to a quota, anglers should check the WDFW website to ensure a specific area is open prior to fishing. Complete information on recreational halibut regulations and seasons is available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/halibut.

Season details are listed below. Because halibut are regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service, these dates are considered preliminary until the federal rulemaking process is complete.

Proposed 2019 Puget Sound halibut seasons

  • Marine areas 5-10 open May 2, 4, 9, 11, 18, 24, 26, June 6, 8, 20, and 22 as long as there is sufficient quota. Puget Sound will be managed to an overall quota of 77,550 pounds.
  • Marine areas 11, 12, and 13 will remain closed to halibut fishing to protect threatened and endangered rockfish species.

Proposed 2019 Pacific Coast halibut seasons

  • Marine Area 1 (Columbia River) opens May 2, 5, 9, 12, 24 and 26 as long as there is sufficient quota. If quota remains after May 26, the Columbia River subarea would be open two days per week, Thursday and Sunday, until the remaining quota is achieved. The nearshore area opens to fishing May 6 on a Monday-through-Wednesday schedule. Coordinates for the nearshore fishery are available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/halibut/columbia-river. The all depth-fishery will be managed to 14,627 pounds; the nearshore quota is 500 pounds.
  • Marine Area 2 (Westport): The all-depth fishery opens May 2, 5, 9, 12, and 24 as long as there is sufficient quota. If sufficient quota remains, the northern nearshore area will open on the Saturday after the all-depth fishery closes and will continue seven days per week until the overall quota is taken. Coordinates for the nearshore fishery are available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/halibut/south-coast. This area will be managed to an overall quota of 62,896 pounds.
  • Marine areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay) will open May 2, 4, 9, 11, 18, 24, 26, June 6, 8, 20, and 22, as long as there is sufficient quota. The combined quota for both areas is 128,187 pounds.

Fishing regulations include depth restrictions and area closures designed to reduce encounters with yelloweye rockfish, which must be released under state and federal law. Anglers are reminded that a descending device must be onboard vessels and rigged for immediate use when fishing for or possessing bottomfish and halibut.

Information about descending devices can be found on WDFW's webpage at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/rockfish