The recreational fishery for Pacific halibut had a slow beginning. Prior to 1973, all fishing for Pacific halibut was governed by the commercial fishing regulations and it was illegal for anyone to catch Pacific halibut when the commercial season was closed. Recreationally-caught Pacific halibut, though, were frequently taken during these closed periods. Because the recreational catch, including recreationally-caught fish taken out of season, was relatively small compared with the commercial catch, IPHC concluded that the problem was not a serious concern for the management of the fishery.
As the recreational catch increased, federal and state agencies urged the IPHC to officially recognize the recreational fishery. Legal interpretations by the two federal governments indicated that the Convention for the Preservation of the Halibut Fishery of the Northern Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea provided the authority to regulate the recreational fishery. After consultation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the NOAA in the USA, and the appropriate state agencies in Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington, the IPHC adopted recreational regulations in 1973. Since 1970s, the popularity of bottomfish with recreational fishers has surged.
Pacific halibut continues to be one of the most popular recreational fish targets, which has fueled growth in recreational harvests, the charter industry, and remote fishing lodges.
Recreational fisheries are managed jointly by the IPHC, the USA fishery management councils, and the individual states in the USA, and cooperatively by the IPHC and DFO in Canada. Methods for managing and limiting the recreational harvest vary by jurisdiction.
Recreational fisheries data can be found on the IPHC data library.
Recreational fishing in IPHC Regulatory Area 2A
IPHC Regulatory Area 2A is located off the USA West Coast in waters off Washington (WA), Oregon (OR), and California (CA). The IPHC sets the overall total allowable catch for the area. The IPHC Regulatory Area 2A Catch Sharing Plan as put forth by the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries provides the formulas to then allocate Pacific halibut among user groups in IPHC Regulatory Area 2A.
The NOAA Fisheries final rule (87 FR 74322) implementing the management transition in the IPHC Regulatory Area 2A to the NOAA Fisheries was published on 5 December 2022 and became effective on 4 January 2023.
As of 2023, charter vessels retaining Pacific halibut in IPHC Regulatory Area 2A must obtain a permit from NOAA Fisheries.
Online permit application forms are available through the NOAA Fisheries West Coast region webpage.
Individual anglers should check with their state for licensing requirements.
Recreational fishing is very popular off the USA West Coast, in part due to the proximity to major population centers. Anglers view Pacific halibut as an alternative to salmon, other bottomfish, and albacore. Because of this popularity, the area is divided into subareas, each with its own allocation and season structure. Bag and possession limits also apply.
Please contact the National Marine Fisheries Service or State Fisheries Department representatives for current information on opening dates, local area closures, and bag limits.
- NMFS Area 2A Pacific Halibut Hotline – In-season updates on 2A recreational fishery seasons. (1-800-662-9825, press 7)
- Washington – Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Oregon – Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
- California – California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Recreational fishing in IPHC Regulatory Area 2B
Open: 1 February
Close: the recreational fishery limit allocated by DFO is taken, or 31 December, whichever is earlier
IPHC Regulatory Area 2B is located off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. The IPHC sets the overall total allowable catch. The Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) then allocates Pacific halibut among user groups in IPHC Regulatory Area 2B.
Through 2003, the Canadian recreational fishery was managed without any fishery limits, but anglers were restricted by bag and possession limits. In 2004, DFO enacted a catch sharing plan that worked from a combined commercial-recreational fishery catch limit set by the IPHC. Under the plan, DFO allocated 12% of the combined limit to the recreational fishery and 88% to the commercial fishery. Beginning with the 2013 fishing season, DFO changed the allocation between sectors to 85% for the commercial fishery and 15% for the recreational fishery.
DFO uses management tools such as adjusting season lengths, reduced bag and possession limits, and area closures to maintain the recreational catch within its allocation. Catch statistics are compiled by DFO and provided annually to the IPHC.
DFO recreational fishing webpage – recreational fishing licensing requirements and in-season fishery notices on changes to restrictions
Recreational fishing in IPHC Regulatory Areas 2C, 3, 4
Open: 1 February
Close: 31 December
IPHC Regulatory Areas 2C, 3, and 4 are located in Alaskan waters. The IPHC sets the overall total allowable catch and season (called the “fishing period” in IPHC regulations). The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service then allocate Pacific halibut among user groups, some through Catch Sharing Plan.
Prior to 2014, there was no overall sport Pacific halibut catch limit in Alaska, just daily bag and possession limits for the individual angler. In 2003, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council implemented a Guideline Harvest Level (GHL) program for the guided sport charter fishery in IPHC Regulatory Areas 2C and 3A. The GHL program specified predetermined harvest targets that changed in relation to changes in Pacific halibut abundance. Management restrictions were to be imposed by the NOAA when the harvest exceeded the GHL in order to reduce the harvest in the subsequent year. However, the GHL for Area 2C sport charter fishery was exceeded every year until 2011, when fishery restrictions were finally imposed, and the harvest was reduced below the GHL. The GHL in Area 3A was exceeded only once, in 2007. In general, the program had limited success in Area 2C in achieving the goals of effectively managing the charter fishery to the specific GHLs.
In 2011, NOAA implemented a limited entry program for the sport charter fishery, which required that the vessel operator possess a special permit to participate in the fishery. Beginning in 2014, a catch sharing plan governs harvest allocations to Regulatory Areas 2C and 3A commercial and sport charter fisheries. Charter management measures intended to keep the sector within its allocation are specified in .
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) Sport Fisheries webpage
- ADFG Sport Fish Guide and Charters registration
- NOAA Fisheries Sport halibut fishing in Alaska webpage
- North Pacific Fishery Management Council – Charter Halibut Management Committee
- Every Halibut Counts – best practices for carefully releasing sport-caught Pacific halibut