Pacific Halibut

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.

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

Pacific Halibut Regulations

The recreational Pacific halibut fishery season was open May 1-June 30, and Sept 3-Nov 15, 2021. Recreational regulations and season structure for the Pacific halibut fishery in California are designed to maximize fishing opportunity while ensuring that catch remains within the federally set quota. CDFW tracks daily recreational Pacific halibut landings. To view the current level of quota attainment, see the “In-Season Tracking” tab below.

The daily bag and possession limit for Pacific halibut is one fish with no minimum size limit.

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 2021 commercial season dates, application deadlines and catch limits, please refer to the IPHC website.

In-Season Tracking

Pacific Halibut Catch
In-season Tracking "Thermometer"

graph showing pounds of Pacific halibut caught compared to quota

Projected Pacific Halibut
Catch by Month

Month Net Pounds Accrued
Preliminary
Projected Catch
CRFS Estimate
May 2,825 2,966
June 31,071 15,330
July Closed 59
August Closed 80
September 10,321 4,736
October 1,847  
November 760  
Total 25,778

These visual aids track Pacific halibut catch against the 39,260 net pound California recreational Pacific halibut quota for 2021.

In the stacked bar chart on the left, the light grey bar represents the total Preliminary Projected Catch in net pounds and dark grey bar represents the total California Recreational Fisheries Survey (CRFS) estimated catch in net pounds. This combined total equates to CDFW’s best estimate of Pacific halibut catch as of the date indicated.

In the table on the right, both the Preliminary Projected Catch values and the CRFS estimates are provided. When CRFS estimate become available, the Preliminary Projected Catch value is reported with a strike-through and is no longer used to estimate quota attainment.

Preliminary Projected Catch vs CRFS Estimates

The CRFS supplies monthly catch estimates for Pacific halibut. Producing CRFS estimates requires information on catch and effort from several sources. Due to the complexity of these data streams, there is a five- to eight-week lag time between the date when data is collected and when CRFS estimates are generated. To provide more timely tracking of the Pacific halibut quota attainment, CDFW produces Preliminary Projected Catch approximations. These approximations are based on daily reports from CRFS field samplers and are used to enumerate approximate catch during the lag period when CRFS estimates are being generated. Due to COVID-19, 2020 and 2021 CRFS field sampling procedures have been modified to ensure the safety of CRFS samplers and anglers alike.

Pacific Halibut Management Process

Pacific halibut management is a complex multi-tiered process that involves state, federal and international partners. Since Pacific halibut is an important economic component of fisheries in both the United States of America and Canada, Pacific halibut are managed at an international level under the authority of the North Pacific Halibut Act which is administered through the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC). Each agency is responsible for contributing different aspects of science, research, management, and policy.

The figure below illustrates a simplified version of the annual management process as it applies to California’s recreational Pacific halibut fishery.

Pacific halibut management cycle diagram starting each January. Descriptive text below explains each step in more detail.

January

Each year in late January or early February, the IPHC holds its Annual Meeting where the annual Fishery Catch Exploitable Yield (FCEY) is determined for each IPHC management area based results from the most recent stock assessment. The FCEY, colloquially known as “the quota,” is the amount of fish that each management area is allowed to catch for the year, and it is reported in net pounds of Pacific halibut.

February/March

Once the annual FCEY has been determined, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) takes over at the federal level. NMFS handles the federal rule-making process which distributes portions of the FCEY to each state and sets fishing season dates as federal law. NMFS collaborates with states agencies on both aspects of the rulemaking process. In late February or early March, CDFW submits the preferred California recreational season dates to NMFS and NMFS makes those season dates federal law.
For IPHC Area 2A, which includes Washington, Oregon, and California, distribution of the FCEY is based on the Area 2A Catch Sharing Plan (CSP). The CSP is an agreement between the three states which is determined through a federal process at the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC). The three West Coast states in Area 2A negotiate within the framework of the CSP to determine the distribution of the FCEY to tribal and non-tribal fisheries. CDFW takes their constituent’s concerns into consideration while negotiating the CSP.

April

To reduce regulatory complexity, the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) modifies the California Pacific halibut regulations to match, or conform to, the federal regulations published in March. This process is known as automatic conformance.

May

The recreational fishing season typically opens on May 1st. For up-to-date information on this year’s season dates, please see the “Pacific Halibut Regulations” tab.
At this point in the process, the international and federal agencies take a step back. Each state oversees management of their FCEY distribution, or as we like to call it, tracking the quota. CDFW tracks quota attainment to ensure that anglers do not exceed the state’s allotted quota. If the quota has been exceeded, CDFW will coordinate with NMFS and IPHC to close the California fisheries.

September/November

At the September PFMC meeting, proposals for modifications to the CSP are presented. At this time, the public can make suggestions to CDFW about changes to the CSP and CDFW may bring those proposals to the PFMC. Final adoption of changes to the CSP are determined at the November PFMC meeting, and these changes apply to the following year’s fisheries.

To learn more, please contact one of these contributing agencies:

Frequently Asked Questions

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

Q: What are the recreational season dates this year?
A: The recreational Pacific halibut season dates are May 1, 2021 - November 15, 2021, or until the quota is reached, whichever is earlier.. Please check the “In-season Tracking” tab above to see the current estimate of catch for this year. Visit the Current California Ocean Recreational Fishing Regulations page for northern California for an up-to-date status of whether the fishery is open or closed.

Q: Are there other regulations for recreational Pacific halibut fishing?
A: There is a daily bag limit of one fish for Pacific halibut. 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.
For more information about Pacific halibut regulations, see the CDFW sport fishing regulation booklet.

Q: What is the recreational quota for California?
A: For 2021, the California recreational Pacific halibut quota allocation is 39,260 net pounds.

Q: How is the recreational California quota determined?
A: The International Pacific Halibut Commission determines the quota for each management area. In Area 2A, which includes Washington, Oregon, and California, quota is distributed by the National Marine Fisheries Service according to a Catch Sharing Plan (CSP). The three states negotiate and agree to the CSP. Under the current CSP, the California recreational fishery receives 4.0 percent of the non-tribal portion of the Area 2A quota. For a more in-depth explanation, please see the “Pacific Halibut Management Process” tab.

Q: Where can I read or download the Catch Sharing Plan?
A: You can find the most recent Catch Sharing Plan on the PFMC’s Pacific halibut web page.

Q: How can the public voice their opinion and get involved with the Pacific halibut regulatory process?
A: The most effective way for the public to get involved is to voice your opinion about the Catch Sharing Plan (CSP). The CSP governs quota distribution and fishing regulations for Washington, Oregon, and California and it is negotiated as part of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) process. Every September, the PFMC asks for proposals to modify the CSP. This is the time and place where CDFW can get the ball rolling on changes to the CSP.

Make your voice heard prior to the September PFMC meeting:

Q: Where are the regulations for commercial Pacific halibut fishing?
A: Commercial Pacific halibut fishing in California is managed by the IPHC. For more information, visit the IPHC web page on directed commercial fishing.

Q: Is there a difference between state and federal regulations for Pacific halibut?
A: No. State regulations for Pacific halibut conform to federal regulations for Pacific halibut.

Contacts

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

Pacific Halibut News

The recreational Pacific halibut fishery for 2021 is closed.Stay(pens in new 2t

large flat fish underwater
Alaska Department of Fish and Game photo by Guy Becken