California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Pacific Halibut

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

Pacific Halibut

Regulations  |  2015 In-season Tracking  |  Fisheries in California  |  Management  |  2016 Calendar of Events  |  Frequently Asked Questions  |  Contacts  |  How to Get Involved

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) works with the 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 pounds. 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

CURRENT SEASON STATUS: CLOSED AS OF AUGUST 13, 2015 FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE YEAR

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), in collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS), developed and adopted new state and federal sport regulations for the Pacific halibut fishery off of California designed to keep catches from exceeding the federally set 2015 quota of 25,220 net pounds. CDFW and NMFS coordinated to review the latest catch projections, based on sampling information, through August 10, 2015 and determined the quota is projected to be reached before the end of the August open fishing period. NMFS took action to close the fishery effective August 13, 2015 for the remainder of the season. See the 2015 In-season Tracking section below to follow the progress of the 2015 season.

Open season dates in 2015:

  • May 1-15
  • June 1-15
  • July 1-15
  • August 1-12

The fishery closed on August 13, 2015 for the remainder of the year.

Methods of Take: When angling, no more than one line with two hooks attached may be used. A harpoon, gaff, or net may be used to assist in taking a Pacific halibut that has been legally caught by angling. See California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 28.95, for additional restrictions on the use of harpoons. Take by spearfishing is allowed pursuant to California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 28.90.

Before engaging in fishing activity, check this page for current closure notifications, or you may call either of these hotlines:

  • National Marine Fishery Service Halibut Hotline at (800) 662-9825
  • CDFW Recreational Groundfish Regulations Hotline at (831) 649-2801

Commercial Fishery

For information pertaining to the 2015 commercial season dates, application deadlines and catch limits, please refer to the IPHC website.

2015 In-season Tracking

In 2015, the Pacific Halibut recreational fishery was subject to weekly tracking of harvest and in season closure based on projected attainment of the 25,220 lb quota.

The California Recreational Fisheries Survey (CRFS) supplies monthly catch estimates for Pacific halibut. Producing CRFS estimates requires information on catches and effort from several sources. As a result, there is a five- to eight-week lag time between when the catch data are collected and when catch estimates using angler effort are generated. In order to conduct weekly tracking of Pacific halibut, CDFW performed customized tracking by using preliminary sample information directly from CRFS weekly field reports. These preliminary CRFS reports were used to generate a Preliminary Projected Catch amount of Pacific halibut in net pounds. The weekly Preliminary Projected Catch is a "proxy" value used to approximate catch during the lag time, until the corresponding monthly CRFS estimates are available. Once CRFS estimates for a month become available this value will replace the weekly projected catch amount for that month. In the "thermometer" below, green/yellow/red represents the weekly Preliminary Projected Catch and the grey stipple represents CRFS estimates. This combined total (Preliminary Projected Catch + CRFS estimates) equates to CDFW's best estimate of Pacific halibut catch as of the date indicated.

CDFW and NMFS coordinated weekly during the 2015 season to determine when the quota was projected to be taken and the appropriate fishery closure date. The fishery was subject to in-season closure at any time during the season if the quota was projected to be reached. CDFW strived to achieve the best estimate of catch to manage the quota and provide as much fishing opportunity as possible while also accounting for the unpredictable variability in the catches due to weather, fuel prices, possible error in the projections, and other unforeseen factors. The table below shows the accrual of catch by month.

CURRENT SEASON STATUS: CLOSED AS OF AUGUST 13, 2015 FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE YEAR

Pacific Halibut Catch
In-season Tracking "Thermometer"

Through August 12, 2015

in-season tracking thermometer

The red color on the bar graph denotes 75 percent or greater of the quota has been projected to have been taken.

Projected Pacific Halibut
Catch by Month


Month Net Pounds Accrued
CDFW
Projection
Preliminary
CRFS
Estimate
May 310 379
June 1,551 1,784
July 11,684  
August 8,892  
September    
October    
Total 22,438 2,163

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 coastwide fishery (Alaska to California) 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 significantly increased over the last several years, with the highest catch (approximately 43,000 net* pounds) observed in 2013. From 2010-2014, the average annual estimated recreational catch of Pacific halibut in California has been approximately 29,000 net* pounds.

* Net pounds are defined as headed and gutted fish.

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Pacific Halibut Management Overview

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:

International Pacific Halibut Commission Research Activities

For the first time, in 2013, the IPHC conducted their annual research survey in California waters. The outcome of the survey was that the catch rates in California were comparable to those in Oregon and Washington waters. The results of the survey were used in the apportionment process of the 2013 stock assessment. The IPHC conducted their survey in California waters again in 2014 with additional fishing stations to explore the southern extent of where Pacific halibut are distributed. The continued efforts of the IPHC to gather abundance data on Pacific halibut in California is a vital part of future harvest discussions.

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2016 Pacific Halibut Management Process: Calendar of Events

September 9-16, 2015
Pacific Fishery Management Council Meeting

DoubleTree by Hilton, Sacramento, CA, 2001 Point West Way, Sacramento, CA
Based on input from state agencies, the Pacific Fishery Management Council members will forward a preliminary range of alternatives for public review on changes to the 2016 Catch Sharing Plan for Area 2A and recreational regulations including the California sport fishery. Please see the Council website for more information.

November 14-19, 2015
Pacific Fishery Management Council Meeting

Hyatt Regency Orange County, 11999 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, CA
The Pacific Fishery Management Council will discuss the proposed changes to the 2016 Pacific Halibut Catch Sharing Plan for Area 2A (which includes California, Oregon and Washington) in response to input from state agencies, advisory bodies and public comment.

December 1-2, 2015
International Pacific Halibut Commission Interim Meeting

Hotel Deca, Seattle
The IPHC will provide preliminary results of the 2015 Pacific halibut stock assessment and harvest decision tables.

January 25-29, 2016
International Pacific Halibut Commission Annual Meeting

Centennial Hall Convention Center, Juneau, Alaska
The IPHC will provide presentation on the 2015 fishery performance, 2015 stock assessment results, the harvest decision table and final approval of catch limits and regulations.

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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 Pacific Halibut Catch Sharing Plan (CSP) is a federally determined, structured distribution of the annual Total Allowable Catch for specific fishing sectors in Oregon, Washington, and California (which includes recreational, commercial and tribal). The annual Total Allowable Catch is determined each January by the IPHC.

Q: What is the recreational allocation for California?
A: In 2014, the recreational allocation for California fell within the newly created "California subarea" management area. The California subarea encompasses the entire state of California. Based on the PFMC's Catch Sharing Plan, the recreational allocation for the California subarea was set at 1.0 percent of the non-tribal portion of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC). In 2015, the PFMC's recommended to increase the California Subarea management area to 4.0 percent of the non-tribal portion of the TAC by reducing the Washington recreational, Oregon recreational, and commercial allocation by 1.0 percent each.

Q: How much does the 4.0 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 2015 allocation for the California subarea is 25,220 net pounds.

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 2015.

Q: How and when are changes made to the Catch Sharing Plan?
A: Every September, the PFMC discusses preliminary proposed changes to the Catch Sharing Plan for the following year. 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: You can find the regulations in the CDFW sport fishing regulation booklet and on the Current California Ocean Recreational Fishing Regulations page for northern California. Additionally, you can find the same regulations in the Catch Sharing Plan under the "California subarea" which includes California. These are the regulations California anglers must adhere to.

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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Contacts

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 NOAA Fisheries Advisory Committee's Recreational Fisheries Working Group.