OUTDOORS: Halibut season nearly set

THE PACIFIC FISHERY Management Council met earlier this month in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Sequim’s Dave Croonquist, an avid fisherman and member of multiple angling-related groups, was an invited guest.

Croonquist, a member of Olympic Peninsula Salmon and Halibut Coalition, offered public testimony at the halibut session on Nov. 16. More on that in a few paragraphs.

But first, anglers should know that the 2018 halibut season will follow the proposal that came out of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s halibut meeting held in Montesano last month.

“Each area will be fishing on its own sub-quota as we’ve done in previous years,” Croonquist wrote in an email. “The South Coast (Westport), North Coast (LaPush/Neah Bay), and Puget Sound will be fishing the same days.

“We should have four days of fishing in May if the International Pacific Halibut Commission quota is similar to last year’s total allowable catch.”

Those dates would be Friday/Sunday May 11 and 13 and May 25 and 27.

Depending on harvest numbers, halibut anglers could fish six additional days in June.

Those potential halibut dates are on a Thursday/Saturday schedule, June 7 and 9, June 21 and 23, and 28 and 30.

Annual limit change

It appears there will be a change in annual halibut possession limits beginning in 2018.

Before the state presented its proposal to the PFMC, Michele Culver, who works on intergovernmental ocean policy for Fish and Wildlife, went over it with attendees.

“She said that because of the short season, it was reasonable to set an annual limit of four fish,” Croonquist wrote. “If we get the four days that will probably happen, then the annual limit is moot. If we get up to six additional days, depending on the harvest rate, then the limit kicks in. She doesn’t expect the annual limit will create any issues as about 87 percent of the Washington halibut anglers catch two or fewer halibut.”

Croonquist asked the council to take a different look at how the sport halibut fishery is administered in US waters, citing 16 USC 773 (c) Regional Fishery Management Council involvement where portions read that the council:

“… If it becomes necessary to allocate or assign halibut fishing privileges among various United States fishermen, such allocation shall be fair and equitable to all such fishermen . . . ”

Croonquist also cited four conservation and management measures in The Magnuson-Stevens Act “which give you the latitude to work with the sport fishing communities of the West Coast states to affect changes in our halibut season structure:

• No. 3: Manage individual stocks as a unit throughout their range, to the extent practicable; interrelated stocks shall be managed as a unit or in close coordination.

• No. 4: Not discriminate between residents of different states; any allocation of privileges must be fair and equitable.

• No. 8: Take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities to provide for the sustained participation of, and minimize adverse impacts to, such communities (consistent with conservation requirements).

• Number 10: Promote safety of human life at sea.

Croonquist asked the group to move the sport fishery away from a directed quota fishery.

“With a daily bag limit, a field possession limit, an annual limit and more timely catch reporting, we could have a better season structure that puts the sport fleet on the water when sea conditions are safer,” Croonquist said.

“We would also be building a more stable economic base for our coastal communities. “

He also mentioned the IPHC doesn’t set quota for private/non-charter halibut anglers in Alaskan waters.

“The IPHC only tracks their total removals for catch accounting and stock assessment. In 2016, the Alaskan private fleet caught an estimated 2.8 million lbs of halibut. If the Alaska private/non-charter fleet doesn’t have quota, is it fair and equitable to assign a quota to the 2A sport fleet?”

Croonquist said there was additional council discussion and questions for Steve Keith, assistant director for the IPHC about his comments on the Alaska non-charter fleet not having a quota fishery.

“In short, the Alaska charter fleet and the commercial halibut fleet have quotas, but the sport fleet doesn’t. The estimated non-charter take is taken off the top of the overall allocation before the charter and commercial fleet get their allocations. Thus, the reason for my question as to why the 2A sport fishery has to fish on a set quota. The Pacific halibut is the same fish from the end of the Aleutian chain to Fort Bragg, Calif.

The PFMC guidelines (No. 3, 4 and 8) can, I think, be interpreted to give us the same access for the sport fleet as the Alaska non-charter fleet enjoys.”

Quota totals will be announced at the IPHC’s annual meeting in Portland, Ore. from Jan. 22-26.

For more information on the meeting, visit tinyurl.com/PDN-IPHC18.

Free day in state parks

Washington State Parks day-use visitors will not need a Discover Pass for vehicle access today.

State Parks free days are in keeping with legislation that created the Discover Pass, a $30 annual or $10 one-day permit required on lands managed by Washington State Parks and the Washington departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Fish & Wildlife (WDFW). The Discover Pass legislation provided that State Parks could designate up to 12 free days each year when the pass would not be required to visit state parks. The Discover Pass is still required to access lands managed by WDFW and DNR on these days.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is offering anglers opportunities for tight lines rather than long lines on the day after Thanksgiving.

The “holiday specials” include thousands of large trout averaging 15 to 16 inches in length and weighing up to three pounds.

The department is currently preparing to stock lakes in time for Black Friday, Nov. 24.

Additionally, the department stocks millions of smaller trout each spring, many of which will have grown to catchable size.

“This is a great reason to avoid the holiday shopping stress just a little longer and enjoy a fun day on the water with family and friends,” said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW inland fish program manager.

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