California Halibut Fishery Management

California halibut are found from the Quillayute River, Washington to central Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico. Within California, they are most common from Bodega Bay (Sonoma County) south. Following warm water events, they are sometimes common in Humboldt County. California halibut prefer relatively shallow soft bottom habitat along the open coast, or areas within bays and estuaries. They are most common from the surf zone to about 200 feet (61 meters).

California halibut are one of the most important finfish fisheries managed by the state, and catch has been documented by CDFW in California waters for almost 150 years (commercial) and for at least 70 years (recreational). California halibut are taken commercially by bottom trawl, set gill/trammel net (both of these fisheries are limited access), and hook-and-line. Recreationally, they are taken by hook-and-line and by divers using spears. The fisheries generally occur from Bodega Bay south to San Diego, including areas inside San Francisco Bay. Following warm water events, a fishery also occurs in Humboldt County.

CDFW is actively working to implement the 2018 Master Plan for Fisheries since its adoption by the Fish and Game Commission (Commission) in June 2018. One key step was conducting a customized Ecological Risk Assessment and completing the prioritization process for California’s fisheries. As a result of the prioritization process, California halibut was identified as a high priority species for management attention.

Given the complexity of the fisheries—operating across the entire California coast, with five sectors representing four gear types—collaboration among the Commission, Marine Resources Committee, CDFW, and stakeholders will be key to ensuring any management action for California halibut reflects the diversity of knowledge, priorities, and desired outcomes.

Status of the California Halibut Resource

A primary goal of fishery management under the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA) is to ensure that fishing levels are sustainable and do not result in an overfished stock. To determine where a fishery is relative to this goal, managers develop stock assessments that establish the current and historical status of the fishery resource. Stock assessments utilize all available data, which most commonly includes catch, abundance indices, and biological data specific to the species. Stock assessments are highly informative management tools used to assess the abundance of fish populations, determine the level at which a resource may be sustainably exploited, and sometimes to predict the potential consequences of policy decisions.

In 2011, with funding from CDFW, the first statewide stock assessment of California halibut was completed. Performed by an external expert, the results were independently peer reviewed prior to release. The assessment examined two stocks of California halibut, with the boundary between stocks at Point Conception. CDFW recently completed an update to the 2011 stock assessment, drawing on the prior modelling approach and considering recent data as well as recommendations from the prior review process. Facilitated by Ocean Science Trust (OST), an independent scientific peer review of the updated California halibut stock assessment was completed by a panel of experts. The review focused on whether the technical components, models, and analysis that underpin the stock assessment were applied in a manner that is scientifically sound, reasonable, and appropriate.

California Halibut Stock Assessment and Peer Review Webinar

On October 28, 2020, CDFW and OST hosted a public informational webinar to share the key findings of the California halibut stock assessment and peer review process.

During the webinar, participants were introduced to the California halibut stock assessment, an important tool in fishery management, and an overview of key findings from the scientific and technical peer-review panel that evaluated the stock assessment. Participants also learned about the processes CDFW and its partners use to collect and analyze data for the stock assessment.

The webinar provided up-to-date information about possible future engagement opportunities as well. CDFW is committed to considering management measures that reflect the diverse knowledge and priorities of the ocean community, through providing meaningful engagement opportunities for stakeholders.

The agenda, presentation slides, and recording of the webinar are posted on the link opens in new windowCalifornia Ocean Science Trust website. Looking beyond the stock assessment and peer review, stakeholders will have the opportunity to discuss more broadly their priorities and concerns for the fishery through future community engagement opportunities.