The Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca halibut season recommendations were sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service to receive final approval, and the outlook in spring and early summer should be good.
“We did reach agreement on fishing dates, and we’re 99.9 percent sure they’ll agree on the recommendations,” said Michelle Culver, the state Fish and Wildlife regional director in Montesano.
The proposed halibut season in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca near Port Angeles, San Juan Islands, and northern and central Puget Sound (Marine Catch Areas 6 to 10) will be open May 8-9, May 15-16, May 21-24 and May 28-30. Fishing was also open 10 days last season.
The western Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu will be open for halibut fishing on May 15-16, May 21-24 and May 29-30.
“This is actually the first time (the western Strait) is opening a week earlier than last year,” said Culver, although the length of days on the water is exactly the same as in 2014.
Hood Canal, and south-central and southern Puget Sound (Areas 11, 12 and 13) will be closed to protect poor rockfish populations.
State Fish and Wildlife will send out an official news release about the Puget Sound and Strait halibut seasons sometime in March.
The coastal halibut seasons came to light early last week, and are pretty much mirror what anglers saw in 2014.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission adopted a quota of 970,000 pounds — up slightly from 960,000 last year — for commercial, sport and tribal fisheries, also known as Area 2A, which covers Washington, Oregon and California.
Sport anglers in Washington will get a share of 214,110 pounds, which is the same as last year.
The northern coastal season off Neah Bay and La Push will be open May 14, 16, 21 and 23 with a quota of 108,030 pounds, which is the same as last year. Catches will then be assessed to see if additional openings are possible. Last year, the northern coastal quota was taken in the brief four days of fishing.
Westport, on the south-central coast, opens May 3 with fishing allowed Sundays and Tuesdays only. Fishing will close once the catch quota of 42,739 pounds is achieved. Last year, Westport had five days of fishing, and averaged five to six days in previous years.
Ilwaco opens May 1 with fishing allowed each week from Thursdays to Sundays, and will close once the catch quota of 10,254 pounds is achieved, which is down slightly from 11,895 pounds last year.
“Halibut fishing was very successful at Neah Bay and La Push, the season went particularly fast at Westport,” said Wendy Beeghly, a state Fish and Wildlife coastal biologist.
Not only was fishing good, but the average size was large with fish from Westport, La Push and Neah Bay averaging 19 to 20 pounds, and a little higher in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. The Ilwaco area fish weight started off at less than 15 pounds, but eventually increased as the season progressed.
The limit in all marine areas will be one halibut daily with no minimum size limit.
Initially the International Pacific Halibut Commission at their meeting last month had recommended a reduced quota of 750,000 pounds.
“We (state, tribal and sport constituents) all pulled together, and were able to demonstrate how committed we are to stay within our allowed catch quotas,” Culver said.
“We demonstrated responsible conservation and management (a strong monitoring system and port sampling) of halibut, and the impact a reduced catch would have on the local communities,” Culver said. “We’ve also been able to reduce our by-catch particularly in the commercial trawl fishery.”