Parimal M. Rohit
SACRAMENTO — California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) plans to maintain its current Pacific Halibut season structure and in-season monitoring, a report published for the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (PFMC) Sept. 16 meeting in Sacramento stated.
DFW will, however, conduct an outreach campaign in February 2016 to discuss with anglers open fishing dates for the upcoming year.
“The 2015 season structure has been advantageous for planning purposes and provides easy dates for anglers to remember. Conversely, there have been concerns about the inflexible nature of the closure periods relative to when good weather and fishing opportunities are available,” according to a DFW report.
Department staff added this year’s in-season monitoring was instrumental to tracking catch projections and planning long-term stability of the recreational halibut fishery.
“DFW plans to continue developing its in-season management expertise for Pacific halibut and further refine the tracking and catch projection process, while building long term stability in the California recreational fishery,” the report stated. “As a result, [DFW] intends to maintain the current season structure and in-season monitoring and management process with defined open and closed fishing periods between May and October, and closure in-season upon projected attainment of the California quota in 2016.”
State officials shut down the 2015 halibut fishery on Aug. 13. Catch projections reportedly showed about 70 percent of the year’s quota had been reached by Aug. 2, less than two weeks before the open period was set to close. The halibut fishery was open for 57 days in 2015 (May 1-15, June 1-15, July 1-15 and Aug. 1-12).
“During the 57 days the fishery was open, the fishery is projected to have taken 22,740 pounds,” DFW staff stated. “A record number of 113 Pacific halibut were sampled over only 15 days, and 96 of those were encountered between July 6 and July 12.”
Anglers reeled in higher quantities of halibut during warm weather and ideal conditions on the water.
“An analysis of daily sampled fish and weather conditions … shows that higher catches occurred on days when weather and ocean conditions were good, and days with poor or variable weather generally experienced lower or no catch,” DFW stated. “Catches of Pacific halibut in 2015 exhibited a very strong correlation with the weather: when the weather was good, catches tended to be higher, and when the weather was poor, catches tended to be lower or zero.”
DFW staff said the limiting the number of days available to reel in halibut actually resulted in an increase in the average estimated daily catch.
Anglers reportedly reeled in an average of 60 to 200 pounds of halibut daily between 2008 and 2013. The halibut season was 184 days long during this six-year stretch. The halibut season was reduced to 153 days in 2014 and resulted in the average daily catch increasing to more than 200 pounds per day, DFW staff reported.
The daily catch average increased to about 400 pounds in 2015, according to DFW, despite the season being 97 days shorter.
“The abrupt increase in the average daily estimated catch from 2014 to 2015 may be an indication that the recreational Pacific halibut fishery in California is transitioning to a derby style fishery, much like many areas of Oregon and Washington’s recreational Pacific halibut fisheries,” DFW staff stated. “In addition, it indicates … even with increased effort on open days, there is no shortage of Pacific halibut available.”
PFMC members will weigh in on the halibut fishery’s catch limits for 2016 at their November meeting in Costa Mesa.