OUTDOORS: Big halibut catches draw criticism

SOME FOLKS TOOK exception to the two barn-door halibut stories I wrote last week that appeared on the front page of the sports section (“Anglers haul in monster halibut” on May 10 and “PA Couple lands monster halibut” on May 14.)

Many others enjoyed the photos of the behemoths and the fish tales that accompanied them.

I’ll admit to needing to find a different adjective for our headlines, but the next time a 100-plus pound halibut is brought ashore, or even a “monster” king salmon, I’m certain I’ll write about it.

Much of the criticism in emails or website comments centered on sustainability issues related to the egg-laying capacity of these massive fish, as well as a perceived lack of taste and texture in the flesh of these larger fish.

This happens every time we publish a story on 100-plus pound halibut, which really isn’t all that often. I can recall a 192-pound halibut in 2014, a 177-pounder last year (I didn’t write that one) and the 115-and 155-pound specimens from last week.

These catches are legal under state regulations and rare in our inside waters. The rarity makes them perfect fodder for stories.

Biological clarification

I asked Quilcene’s Ward Norden, a former fisheries biologist and owner of Snapper Tackle Company, if all of these beasts tipping the scales at north of 100 pounds are female.

“Absolutely true,” Norden said.

“All the largest halibut are females, but the bulk stay farther north. The majority [of the overall population] down here seem to be males which migrate farther north as they mature to get to the spawning grounds [i.e. the waters off Alaska].”

Norden loves to bass fish, so he threw in another species with a similar weight-to-sex ratio.

“The same is true for largemouth bass in that almost any bass you catch over three pounds is a female,” he said. “So I am particularly careful releasing them, but I don’t support mandatory catch-and-release however since newbies catch very very few.”

In the halibut derby winner stories and the big halibut tales I’ve written, I’ve never had anybody say the meat tasted poorly or was riddled with worms or parasites (some may be invisible to the naked eye). I have heard about Alaskan anglers encountering those issues with halibut well over the 250-plus pound mark.

I asked Norden about the connection between larger halibut and tasteless flesh.

“As for poorer quality meat, the larger ones tend to be tougher plus have some parasites because larger fish are older, they have had more time to collect parasites,” he said.

“The same is true of our local starry flounder and largemouth bass. As for taste, I have never noticed the difference with halibut, but is true with large largemouth bass, minus the parasites.”

Another critic pointed to the length limits on halibut for British Columbia and Alaskan anglers and advocated for a size limit on halibut here in Washington.

To use British Columbia, and more specifically the Victoria/Sydney Marine Area bordering our Marine Area 6 (where the two “monster” halibut were landed) as an example, sports anglers can keep one halibut per day, a maximum of 133 cm (52.36 inches), and two in possession.

Alaska is its own universe entirely, I don’t see much value in comparing their fish populations or regulations to what we have here.

The massive discrepancy in season length for our Canadian fishing friends was never mentioned in any criticism.

Those with Canadian fishing licenses can keep six halibut per year (angling year runs from April 1 to March 31 in Canada) and have until Dec. 31 to catch those fish.

The amount of time sport anglers have on the water to the north makes it entirely likely that Canadians fill those six-fish limits. And if they caught all they were legally able to keep (and using a state Department of Fish and Wildlife average of 19.2 pounds for Strait of Juan De Fuca halibut) that would equal just over 115 pounds per angler.

Now, not all of those six is going to be female. But some will be egg-producing females. And Canadian sport anglers have the time and the option available to bring in six a year.

Washington anglers have had three scheduled days with two more on the horizon and two more potential dates if quota numbers aren’t reached.

Tough tides and foul weather played a role in limiting numbers on at least two of those days. Creel reports showed angler success was running about one fish for every five anglers on the first two days of halibut fishing.

To reach the upper limit of the halibut Canadians can obtain, sport anglers fishing Washington waters must be on their game and willing to risk life and limb in poor conditions during a scant few days on the water.

Yes, it is possible a recreational angler could catch one per day in Washington and come close or even exceed the yearly British Columbia limit if those potential dates are added.

And the final word comes from the group overseeing halibut fishing along the Pacific Coast.

Stable was the word used to describe halibut populations in the entirety of Area 2A (California, Oregon and Washington), Canada and parts of southeast Alaska this year by the The International Pacific Halibut Commission when the group met in Victoria in January.

And nobody truly knows what commercial halibut anglers are hauling aboard on either side of the U.S.-Canada border. How many barn doors are those boats landing? How many future halibut are lost there?

Last chance in Canal

Saturday marks the final chance to harvest spot shrimp in Hood Canal and the Discovery Bay Shrimp District portion of Marine Area 6.

Shrimping is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Hood Canal and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Discovery Bay Shrimp District.

Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) closed for shrimping earlier this week.

Shrimping will continue in Marine Areas 4-6 on a daily basis until the shrimp quota is reached or Sept. 15, whichever comes first.

Camp hosts sought

Olympic National Park is looking for camp hosts for its Hoh Rain Forest, Kalaloch, Mora and Fairholme campgrounds.

Potential camp hosts musts be able to volunteer for two or more months this summer.

Camp hosts are asked to volunteer a minimum of 32 hours a week assisting rangers with general campground responsibilities as well as assisting campers. Each location has unique character and hosts will work with rangers to learn about area responsibilities. Most host sites are provided electric, sewer, and water hook ups. Other amenities depend on the location.

Camp hosts should enjoy being in contact with people and be able to greet the public in a friendly, helpful manner.

To apply, visit tinyurl.com/PDN-CampHost.

For more information, email camp host manager Ben Kashdan at [email protected]

________

Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]

More in Sports

STATE FOOTBALL: Quilcene’s Holdem Elkins knows when to throw

Trusting in the arm of quarterback Holdem Elkins and a… Continue reading

FOOTBALL: Port Townsend, Chimacum players make Nisqually/Olympic All-League team

Chimacum junior Jacob Williamson is a two-way first-team All-Nisqually/Olympic League… Continue reading

OUTDOORS: WDFW budget woes could be forestalled in future

WITH A $31 million funding gap looming for the upcoming 2019-21 budget… Continue reading

COLLEGE SOCCER: After last year’s heartbreak, Pirates take care of business this season

The Peninsula College women’s soccer sophomores remembered too well… Continue reading

ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: Billy Parkin III, Neah Bay football

Billy Parkin III had the game of his life against Tacoma Baptist… Continue reading

Most Read