Halibut a targeted species as anglers deal with regulations

Santa Cruz - Santa Cruz, CA

Halibut a targeted species as anglers deal with regulations
Halibut will be moving into nearshore waters as the next couple months progress. Anglers don’t need to travel very far from Monterey Bay harbors to catch one of these exciting and delicious slabs. Here’s a shot of Jesscia Birch with a fine flatty caught aboard the Miss Beth from Go Fish Santa Cruz last season.

by Allen Bushnell

In last week’s column we encouraged local anglers to try and look on the bright side. We discussed how angler optimism can improve one’s fishing experience as well as their catch rate. Unfortunately the regulatory trend, especially in the last couple years has been increasingly restrictive for recreational anglers.

In 2023 it was announced that due to dismal returns of spawning salmon in the Sacramento River system that there would be no ocean salmon season in our area whatsoever. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Administration are well known for keeping their cards close to the vest. Salmon season typically opens at the beginning of April, but is not officially confirmed until federal agencies make a final decision as to the length and breadth of season a few weeks later in mid-May. This year The Sacramento returns are even lower than 2023, suggesting a continued ban on ocean salmon fishing in 2024.

Fishing for rockcod, which is the most consistent and productive saltwater angling for Northern California, is facing continued restrictions as well. Last year we enjoyed the benefit of fishing for cod in the deep waters beyond the 300-foot line, areas that had ben closed to rockfishing for over 20 years. This opened up vast areas inhabited by a robust population of quality shelf and slope rockfish unavailable in nearshore waters. Anglers were exuberantly, traveling to the deepwater reefs for full bags of hefty chili peppers, green spotted and vermilion rockfish as well as big deep dwelling ling cod. In a mid-season regulatory change, the DFW closed the nearshore waters for rockfishing at the end of August. This was done to protect the threatened populations of quillback rockfish, according to the DFW.

Anglers could continue to fish the deep waters past 300 feet, but  those that cannot make it out six to 10 miles to the deep reefs were out of luck. Skiff anglers and kayak fishermen got the short end of the stick on that decision. Other species, such as halibut, could be pursued in the nearshore waters during this in-season rockfish closure. Because the salmon season never opened in 2023, many anglers turned towards halibut as the next best thing for catching big, quality and hard-fighting fish. So the big flatfish came under an increase of fishing pressure. Halibut biomass has been improving steadily for the past ten years. But many of the halibut hooked were juveniles. Legal halibut must measure 22 inches for retention. Halibut are particularly sensitive fish. The mortality rate for released fish is around 40%. The DFW recognized this threat to the halibut fishery, and reduced the bag limit from three fish to two, a regulation that should continue into the coming year’s fishing season. 

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