Pacific Halibut

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) works with the link opens in new windowNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the link opens in new windowCalifornia Fish and Game Commission, the link opens in new windowPacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), the link opens in new windowInternational 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

Sport regulations for the Pacific halibut fishery off California are designed to keep catches from exceeding the federally set quota.

The 2020 recreational Pacific halibut fishery opened statewide May 1, and will close on Tuesday, August 11 at 11:59 p.m. for the remainder of 2020 due to projected attainment of the quota.

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 2020 commercial season dates, application deadlines and catch limits, please refer to the link opens in new windowIPHC website.

In-Season Tracking

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. Due to COVID-19 modified sampling and estimation procedures were implemented in 2020. Proxy catch values for May and June were derived using modified methods, are preliminary, and subject to change. In order to conduct weekly tracking of Pacific halibut, CDFW performs customized tracking by using preliminary sample information directly from CRFS weekly field reports. These preliminary CRFS reports are 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, when gradient colors (green/yellow/red) are present, they represent the weekly Preliminary Projected Catch and the grey represents proxy values for May and June. This combined total (Preliminary Projected Catch + proxy May/June values) equates to CDFW's best estimate of Pacific halibut catch as of the date indicated.

CDFW in conjunction with PFMC, IPHC, and NMFS coordinated weekly during the 2020 season and closed the fishery Tuesday, August 11 at 11:59 p.m. due to projected attainment of the quota.

Pacific Halibut Catch
In-season Tracking "Thermometer"

graph showing project pounds caught compared to quota

Projected Pacific Halibut
Catch by Month

Month Net Pounds Accrued
CDFW Projection Preliminary
CRFS Estimate
May NA 2,521
June NA 2,356
July 26,064 35,127
August 22,154 24,103
September   CLOSED
October   CLOSED
Total 64,107

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.

* Net pounds are defined as headed and gutted fish.

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:

Pacific Halibut Management Process: Calendar of Events

  • January 28-February 1, 2019
    International Pacific Halibut Commission Annual Meeting
    Fairmont Empress Hotel, Victoria, B.C., Canada

    See the link opens in new windowIPHC website to read the California Sport Report submitted by CDFW.

Frequently Asked Questions

CDFW CRFS sampler taking data from a sport caught Pacific halibut in 2012, CDFW photo by E. W. Roberts III

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 2019 allocation for the California subarea is 39,000 net pounds.

Q: Where can I read or download the most recent Catch Sharing Plan?
A: The link opens in new windowPFMC website includes the final Catch Sharing Plan.

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 link opens in new windowPFMC website to read about 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 link opens in new windowIPHC 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 link opens in new windowIPHC website for more information.

Q: Are all of these regulations pertaining to Pacific halibut federal only?
A: No, the link opens in new windowCalifornia 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.


Email 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