The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced this week the expected dates of this year’s halibut fishing season, kicking off April 22 in some Puget Sound areas.
The 2021 season is structured similarly to what was originally planned for the 2020 season, which was revised to address public health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“An earlier opening in the Puget Sound region has been something that stakeholders have been interested in for several years,” said Heather Hall, WDFW intergovernmental fisheries policy coordinator. “Because catch in the Puget Sound region has been below the quota for the last couple of years, we were excited to implement measures like the earlier start and consecutive open days per week to provide anglers with more fishing days to catch the quota for that area.”
Similarly, WDFW has shifted its season approach for the coastal areas to reflect angler preferences, opening on Saturdays in the north coast (Neah Bay and La Push) and Sunday on the south coast (Westport). As a result of angler requests, the Columbia River halibut season dates overlap with those on the south coast (Westport), providing for a more stable season overall.
The season is based on a statewide quota of 289,517 pounds. The annual catch quota is the result of a fixed allocation that the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) approved in January for fisheries in Washington, Oregon and California.
This approach, which is designed to maintain a sustainable fishery and has been in place since 2019, will allocate a total of 1.5 million pounds to halibut fisheries off the coast of those three states each year through 2022, pending any conservation concerns. The consistent annual allocation also helps provide stability for recreational fisheries from year to year.
To support public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Makah Tribe and Quileute Tribe reservations, including marinas and all services, remain closed to visitors. Neah Bay on the Makah reservation and La Push on the Quileute reservation represent the primary direct boat access in Marine Areas 3 (Lapush) and 4 (Neah Bay). As a result, those fishing in these areas will have to launch from and land catch in other areas. Anglers fishing in Marine Areas 3 and 4 still have to follow all rules and regulations for that area, regardless of where they return with their catch.
In all marine areas open to halibut fishing, there is a one-fish daily catch limit and no minimum size restriction. Anglers must record their catch on a WDFW halibut catch record card. There is an annual limit of four halibut.
Season details are listed below. Anglers are reminded that because halibut fisheries are managed to a quota, areas will close when the quota is projected to be taken. Anglers should check the WDFW website to ensure a specific area is open prior to fishing. Complete information on recreational halibut regulations and seasons at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/halibut.
2021 Puget Sound halibut seasons
- Marine area 5 will open May 6, 8, 13, 15, 20, 22, 28, 29, 30, June 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26 as long as there is sufficient quota.
- Marine areas 6 -10 will open April 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, May 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 28, 29, 30, June 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26 as long as there is sufficient quota.
- Marine areas 11, 12, and 13 are closed to halibut fishing to protect threatened and endangered rockfish species.
- Puget Sound will be managed to an overall quota of 78,291 pounds.
2021 Pacific Coast halibut seasons
- Marine Area 1 (Columbia River) The all-depth fishery opens Thursday, May 6, 9, 13, 16, 20, 23, 27, June 3, 6, 10, 13, 17, 20, 24, 27, as long as there is sufficient quota. The nearshore area opens to fishing May 10 on a Monday-through-Wednesday schedule. Coordinates for the nearshore fishery are available at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/halibut/columbia-river. The all depth fishery will be managed to 18,162 pounds; the nearshore quota is 500 pounds.
- Marine Area 2 (Westport): The all-depth fishery opens Thursday, May 6, 9, 13, 16, 20, 23 and, 27. If sufficient quota remains the all-depth fishery will open June 17, 20, 24, 27 depending on available quota. If there is remaining quota, 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 at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/halibut/south-coast. This area will be managed to an overall quota of 63,636 pounds.
- Marine areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay) will open May 6, 8, 13, 15, 20, 22, 28, 30, June 3, 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24, 26, as long as there is sufficient quota. The combined quota for both areas is 128,928 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 can help aid their recovery if caught by using a descending device, which must be on board 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 wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/rockfish.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife works to preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish, wildlife, and recreational and commercial opportunities.