California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Pacific Halibut

Pacific Halibut Regulations  |  Pacific Halibut Fisheries in California  |  Calendar of Events  |  Pacific Halibut Management  |  Frequently Asked Questions  |  Contacts

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is working with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the California Fish and Game Commission, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), and the states of Oregon and Washington to manage the Pacific halibut fishery off the Pacific West coast.

Pacific Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) are large flatfish that can be found from the Bering Sea in Alaska to northern California. According to the IPHC, Pacific halibut can reach a maximum length of nine feet and maximum weight of 500 lbs. The oldest recorded age is 55 years for both females and males. They reside along the continental shelf and are found in a broad range of depths (from inshore to 450 meters). Their large size and delectable meat make them a popular and prized target for both sport and commercial fisherman.

Pacific Halibut Regulations

Recreational Fishery

The recreational fishery for Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) is closed as of November 1, 2013.

Commercial Fishery

Commercial IPHC Permit - NEW Postmark Deadline - March 17, 2014

According to the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved an earlier season opening date of April 1, 2014, for the commercial incidental catch of halibut during the salmon troll season and the commercial incidental catch of halibut during the longline sablefish fishery north of Pt. Chehalis, Washington. As a result of these decisions, the Area 2A halibut vessel license application procedures and submission deadline dates for 2014 have been changed. Please see the IPHC website for more information.

Pacific Halibut Fisheries in California

During the early 1900s, the commercial Pacific halibut fishery in California was substantial; hundreds of thousands of pounds were landed from San Francisco to Eureka. By the late 1950s however, the fishery was over capacity and management measures were taken to reduce fishing pressure. By today's measure, the commercial fishery in California has been reduced to a minimal allowance of take due to regulatory constraints. Conversely, sport fishing for Pacific halibut has rarely contributed to substantial removals from the fishery until recently. Since 2006, the north coast of California (north of Pt. Arena, Mendocino County) has experienced reduced fishing opportunities for groundfish and salmon. At the same time, increased fishing effort towards Pacific halibut has resulted in increased recreational catch estimates. Catch estimates are generated by CDFW's recreational sampling program known as the California Recreational Fisheries Survey (CRFS). Estimated catch of Pacific halibut has tripled over the last several years, with the highest catch (approximately 34,000 net* lbs) observed in 2009. From 2008-2012, the average annual estimated recreational catch of Pacific halibut in California has been approximately 22,000 net* pounds.

* Net pounds are defined as headed and gutted fish.

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2014 Pacific Halibut Management Process: Calendar of Events

Halibut, Photo credit Guy Becken, IPHC, and courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Pacific Halibut

July 18, 2013
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Public Meeting

Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center, 921 Waterfront Dr., Eureka, CA
CDFW staff presented the preliminary range of management alternatives being considered by the Pacific Fishery Management Council at the September 2013 meeting in Boise, Idaho. Staff from the International Pacific Halibut Commission presented information on the stock assessment, apportionment process and research survey being conducted in Northern California.

Meeting Materials

July 30, 2013
South of Humbug Pacific Halibut Policy Committee Meeting

7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 101, Portland, OR
The Policy Committee meeting goal is to evaluate measures for controlling recreational catch of Pacific halibut south of Humbug Mountain (southern Oregon and northern California) to comply with the allocation provisions of the Catch Sharing Plan. Public participation is available online via a Webinar in listen and view only mode (no option for public comment). To participate and provide public comment, two locations are being provided to attend in person at: Best Western Beachfront Inn (located in Brookings) and the Harbor District Office (located on Woodley Island). To view the report and get full details on the meeting, please see the Council website.

September 12-17, 2013
Pacific Fishery Management Council Meeting

The Riverside Hotel, 2900 Chinden Blvd, Boise, ID
Council members will be reviewing any recommendations from the South of Humbug Policy Committee Meeting, consider and adopts (for public review and comments) preliminary alternatives for changes to the 2014 Catch Sharing Plan and recreational regulations. Please see the Council website for more information.

November 1-6, 2013
Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa, 3050 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA

Council will take final action on changes to the Catch Sharing Plan for 2014. Public comment will be accepted prior to final action. More information will be available after the September Council meeting

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Pacific Halibut Management

2014 Pacific Halibut Management Decision

At the November meeting, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) discussed the proposed changes to recreational Pacific halibut regulations for 2014. Regulation changes were recommended that will affect California’s 2014 recreational fishery. The adopted changes below will be made to the existing Catch Sharing Plan and is expected to reduce catch levels that are closer to the allocation for California’s recreational fishery. CDFW appreciates all public comments that were submitted regarding support or opposition on the options that were considered by the Council. The Council recommended the following changes to the Catch Sharing Plan (CSP) for the South of Humbug Management area:

  • A new subarea management line at the Oregon/California border (42° N. Latitude), and provide California a separate recreational allocation within the CSP equal to 1 percent of the non-tribal allocation. Further:

Due to the inability to monitor the catch in this area during the fishing season, a fixed season would be established in advance by NMFS based on projected 2014 seasonal catch. No adjustments would be made during the fishing season, and estimates of actual catch will be made post season.

  • May 1 through July 31, and from September 1 through October 31

The daily bag limit would continue to be one halibut per person, with no size limit.

For more information on this subject, see the Council website.

Pacific halibut management is a complex multi-tiered process that involves state, federal and international partners. Until recently, CDFW involvement was limited because Pacific halibut were not being caught at any significant level compared to the Oregon and Washington fisheries. The increased recreational take of Pacific halibut in California warranted the attention of not only CDFW but also Pacific halibut managers outside the state. With the increase in recreational catch, and the responsiveness of federal and international agencies, CDFW is now more involved in the Pacific halibut management process.

Unlike most California fisheries (such as groundfish) that have a federal nexus for joint management (with PFMC and NOAA Fisheries), Pacific halibut are additionally managed at an international level under the authority of the North Pacific Halibut Act and administered through the IPHC. Each agency is responsible for contributing different aspects of science, research, management and policy. To learn more, please contact one of these contributing agencies:

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Frequently Asked Questions

DFW photo by E. W. Roberts III

CDFW CRFS sampler taking data from a sport caught Pacific halibut in 2012

Q: How does the recreational catch estimation process work?
A: The California Recreational Fishery Survey or "CRFS" is the sampling program used to estimate total marine recreational catch and effort in California. It is a coordinated sampling survey designed to gather information for all finfish species, including Pacific halibut. Data are collected from all modes of sport fishing including angler interviews for catch information and boat trailer counts for angler effort.

Q: Is there an explanation for the increases in catch?
A: The level of CRFS sampling has not been altered since 2004, leaving three likely explanations for the increase. One, anglers have shifted their fishing effort towards Pacific halibut in the absence of decreased (or no) salmon fishing opportunities in addition to the limited season for groundfish (to protect over-fished species such as yelloweye and canary rockfish). Second, general interest has increased as more anglers learn about good Pacific halibut fishing opportunities. Third, it could be that the stock or biomass of Pacific halibut has been increasing as a result of little fishing pressure in California. The third explanation is an area where research is needed before it can be verified.

Q: What is the Catch Sharing Plan that I keep hearing about?
A: The Catch Sharing Plan is a federally determined, structured distribution of the annual Total Allowable Catch for specific fishing sectors in Oregon, Washington, and California. The annual Total Allowable Catch is determined each January by the IPHC.

Q: What is the recreational allocation for California?
A: The recreational allocation for California falls within the South of Humbug Mountain management area. The South of Humbug Mountain area encompasses Southern Oregon and all of California. Based on the PFMC's Catch Sharing Plan, the recreational allocation for the SOH area is set at 0.62 percent of the Total Allowable Catch.

Q: How much does the 0.62 percent allocation equal to in pounds?
A: Every year the IPHC sets an annual Total Allowable Catch for Area 2A which feeds into the allocation breakdown (by percentages) for Oregon, California and Washington. The 2013 allocation for the Humbug Mountain management area is 6,063 net lbs (which is shared between Southern Oregon and all of Northern California).

Q: Where can I read or download the most recent Catch Sharing Plan?
A: Both the PFMC and NOAA Fisheries websites include the final Catch Sharing Plan for 2013.

Q: How and when are changes made to the Catch Sharing Plan?
A: Every September, the PFMC discusses proposed changes to the Catch Sharing Plan. Generally, each state agency submits proposed changes for the PFMC to consider. Any final recommendations are made at the annual November PFMC meeting.

Q: How do I voice my opinion or comment on proposals to the Catch Sharing Plan or other Pacific halibut regulations?
A: Visit the PFMC website to read about ten ways to get involved.

Q: I am interested in sport fishing for Pacific halibut. Where do I find the regulations?
A: Look at the Catch Sharing Plan under the "South of Humbug Mountain" area which includes California. These are the regulations California anglers must adhere to. Additionally you can find the same regulations in the CDFW sport fishing regulation booklet and on the California Ocean Recreational Fishing Regulations page for northern California.

Q: I am interested in commercial fishing for Pacific halibut. Where do I find the regulations?
A: Visit the IPHC website.

Q: Besides the Catch Sharing Plan and federal regulations, does the IPHC have additional rules or regulations on Pacific halibut?
A: Yes, the IPHC does have additional commercial licensing rules. See the IPHC website for more information.

Q: Are all of these regulations pertaining to Pacific halibut federal only?
A: No, the California Fish and Game Commission is the authoritative body that creates state fishing regulations. In an effort to provide for the best interest of any given fishery and to reduce regulatory confusion for constituents, the Commission typically takes concurrent action to have state regulations conform to whatever federal regulations are adopted.

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E-mail a question or comment to the Marine Region.

CDFW Monterey Field Office and Laboratory
20 Lower Ragsdale Dr., Suite 100
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 649-2870

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IPHC Advisory Group Appointment

In May 2013, the IPHC appointed Mr. Tom Marking to its new Management Strategy Advisory Board (MSAB). Mr. Marking will be able to provide his expertise about the recreational fishery sector during MSAB deliberations regarding development of new analytical management strategies for Pacific halibut. The MSAB includes a broad cross section of fishery representatives and at present, Mr. Marking is the only member appointed to represent recreational issues.

While California has had limited participation in the Pacific halibut management process in the past, the resurgence of a fishery for Pacific halibut off California's north coast has meant increased involvement of both CDFW and California's constituents. Mr. Marking states "this is a timely appointment for our state and region. I'm pleased the IPHC is giving California a seat at the table so we can have a platform to have input into the process."

Mr. Marking has been involved in federal fisheries management issues for several years as a member of the PFMC's Groundfish Advisory Subpanel, and was also recently appointed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Advisory Committee's Recreational Fisheries Working Group.