Many boating activities have hit the pause button for the stormy winter season, so now is the time to start looking ahead at spring halibut fishing options. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recently conducted two public meetings where they released the preliminary structure of the 2023 halibut sportfishing proposals as well as recapped the 2022 season.
“The 2022 season went well generally, although the early season (May and June) when halibut fishing is typically more productive was hit hard by significant poor weather,” observed Heather Hall, the WDFW intergovernmental ocean policy manager. “We also heard that fishing effort was reduced by high fuel prices, plus prices were much higher in coastal counties,” Hall said. “We compensated for the low effort by adding additional days where we could, including during August and September.
Overall, the total for all marine areas ended up at 304,649 pounds with an actual catch of 252,441 (an 83% rate), and the season length analysis for all marine areas revealed a dramatic improvement in the 2022 maximum and average catch compared to average catch data from 2018, 2019, and 2021.
Last year’s numbers will help determine the fate of the 2023 parameters. For example, in the Puget Sound/Strait of Juan de Fuca region, the “high catch” from 2018-2022 showed an average catch of 2,364 halibut and 33 potential days on the water. If this same “high catch” was implemented in 2023 with a start date of April 6, a seven day per week season could have it open through May 8, and a five day per week season open through May 20. A later start date of April 13 might extend the season through May 15 and May 27 respectively. A “medium catch” in Puget Sound/Strait of Juan de Fuca from 2019-2022 showed an average daily catch of 1,902 halibut and 43 potential days on the water. If the “medium catch” was implemented in 2023 with a start date of April 6, a seven day per week season could have it open through May 16, and a five day per week season open through June 1. A later start date of April 13 might extend the season through May 23 and June 8 respectively. A “low catch” in Puget Sound/Strait of Juan de Fuca from 2021-2022 showed an average daily catch of 1,600 halibut and 48 potential days on the water. If the “low catch” was implemented in 2023 with a start date of April 6, a seven day per week season could have it open through May 24, and a five day per week season open through June 10. A later start date of April 13 might extend the season through May 31 and June 17 respectively.
WDFW has worked with the National Marine Fisheries Service in recent years to implement the flexible management provisions in the Catch Sharing Plan and this flexibility has yielded substantial benefits. “We are hopeful the (International Pacific Halibut Commission) will adopt the same quota in 2023, which would set us up for similar recreational quotas, but those discussion still need to happen,” Hall said. “For the past four years, Area 2A (including Washington, Oregon, and California) has received a stable quota of 1.65 million pounds for all sectors.”
Here are WDFW’s 2023 season proposals:
- Columba River/Ilwaco – Open Thursdays and Sundays only from May 4 through May 21 and June 1-25; and open May 25 and June 29 only.
- Westport – Open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays only from May 4-21; and May 30 only. If sufficient quota remains, open June 15, June 18, June 22, and June 25 only.
- La Push/Neah Bay – Open Thursdays and Saturdays only from May 4-21 and June 1-24; and open May 26, May 28, and June 29 only.
- For Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca – Open Thursdays to Mondays only from April 6 through May 22, and May 26, 27, and 28; and open daily from June 1-30. If sufficient quota remains after June 30, WDFW will consider a fishery in August and/or September with dates to be determined.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council and state and federal constituents met on November 2-8 in Orange County, California, to make final recommendations on the proposed halibut seasons. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will meet January 23-27 in Victoria, British Columbia, to review seasons and quotas from Alaska south to California. The National Marine Fisheries Service will make a final approval of Washington halibut seasons sometime in March or sooner. You can find out more information by going to the WDFW halibut webpage at: wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/halibut.