Dates for halibut fishing will be announced earlier so fishers can make plans.
State Fish and Wildlife has decided to convert its management approach for inner-marine sport halibut fisheries in order to avoid exceeding catch quotas.
“We made some changes for this coming year, and our overall focus is trying to provide a more meaningful fishing opportunity,” said Heather Reed, the state Fish and Wildlife policy coordinator. “For the last several years we’ve been taking more than our share of the quota in the Strait (of Juan de Fuca) and Puget Sound, and so our new approach will be similar to how we manage halibut on the coast (from Westport to Neah Bay).”
Reed said fishery managers from the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) in Seattle had requested state Fish and Wildlife to consider ways to ensure quotas aren’t exceeded in the 2017 fishing season.
Last year, the sport halibut fishery in Puget Sound — including areas from Sekiu to Port Angeles in the Strait of Juan de Fuca — had a quota of 57,393 pounds and the total catch was 102,699 pounds.
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The other change Reed mentioned was announcing preliminary dates sooner than later — which usually occurred in early January — to provide sport anglers a chance to make plans now on when they’d like to go fishing.
The National Marine Fisheries Service makes its final approval on fishing dates sometime in March, but it is unlikely any change will occur.
“We aligned the sport halibut season dates for Puget Sound to match the northern and south-central coast, which includes Westport but not the Columbia River (off Ilwaco),” Reed said.
Halibut fishing in Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the coast off Neah Bay, La Push and Westport will be open May 4, May 6 and May 11.
“Once we get done with those fishing dates then we will assess the catch like we normally do,” Reed said. “If there’s more left in quotas, then fishing will likely reopen May 21 and possibly May 25. Beyond that, we’ll also look at June 1 and/or June 4.”
The halibut all-depth fishery off the Columbia River area at Ilwaco will open May 4, with fishing allowed Thursdays through Sundays of each week. The nearshore fishery off Ilwaco will open May 8 with fishing allowed Mondays through Wednesdays of each week.
Last year, the northern coast off Neah Bay and La Push caught 107,417 pounds with a catch quota of 108,030.
“Fishing was pretty good off North Coast, but they got hit with some bad weather days,” Reed said. “While normally the fishery lasts three or four days, it actually stayed open longer.”
Last year, the south-central coast off Westport produced 43,785 pounds with a catch quota of 42,739. The southern coast off the Columbia River — co-managed with Oregon — caught 11,895 pounds with a catch quota of 11,009.
“We were just a little over the Westport quota, and fishing was pretty good last year,” Reed said.
All halibut sport, tribal and nontribal commercial fishing quotas will be announced on Jan. 23-26 at the IPHC meeting in Victoria, British Columbia.
Last year, Washington sport anglers had a catch quota of 214,110 pounds, which was identical to 2015 and 2014.
The northern coastal sport quota was 108,030 pounds; south-central coast was 40,739 plus a reserve quota of 2,000 for the near shore fishery; and southern coast was 11,009 with 500 reserved for the near shore fishery.
The daily catch limit in all marine areas is one halibut with no minimum size limit.
One hang-up with the change in the season-setting structure has caused the Port Angeles Salmon Club to cancel its Memorial Day Halibut Derby, an ongoing annual event since 2001.
Mount Rainier offers winter fun
The recent storms have allowed Mount Rainier National Park to begin winter operations.
The Paradise snow-play area — the only location in the park where sledding is allowed — remains closed until the snowpack increases. A minimum of 5 feet is necessary for sledding, and the park hopes to open the area no later than Dec. 23.
The snowpack is deep enough to allow snowshoeing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and backcountry use. This activities create minimum impact on the meadows and resources.
The Longmire area is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and includes the museum and National Park Inn. For details, call 360-569-2275 or go to mtrainierguestservices.com.
At Paradise, the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends only, plus holidays from Dec. 21 to Jan. 2, and Jan. 16 and Feb. 20.
Ranger-guided snowshoe walks at Paradise will begin Dec. 23 through March 26 on weekends and holidays when the visitor center is open. Walks are conducted at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Sign-ups are on a first-come, first-served basis, and begin one hour in advance of each walk at the Jackson Visitor Center. Participants should dress appropriately for the weather.
Overnight winter camping is allowed in many areas of the park with a valid permit, but access depends on road conditions and snow depth. For details, call 360-569-6575.