Halibut fishing opportunities are dwindling fast off the northern coast, and the issue has nothing to do with a decline in the fish species. "We're looking at the catch-area plan...

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Halibut fishing opportunities are dwindling fast off the northern coast, and the issue has nothing to do with a decline in the fish species.

“We’re looking at the catch-area plan at Neah Bay and La Push after they had come off a short fishing season,” said Phil Anderson, a state Fish and Wildlife fish policy coordinator.

This year, Neah Bay and La Push (Marine Catch Areas 3 and 4) fished a meager nine days in May and five days in June.

In 2003, both areas were open 15 days in May and five in June; in 2002, it was open 20 days and three days; and in 2001, it was open 25 days and four days.

The shortened seasons are not attributed to a waning coastal halibut population. In fact, they are very healthy and at all-time highs in recent years.

“There is a lot more participation and a higher percentage of people are getting their one-fish daily bag limit,” Anderson said. “We’ve also had favorable weather conditions in recent years and the sophistication of equipment being used (like GPS) are putting boats in the right place.”

On Nov. 23, state Fish and Wildlife hosted a recreational halibut fishery meeting in Forks to discuss the dire situation.

“There was a lot of reaction, both good and bad at the meeting,” Anderson said. “This was a hard issue to swallow and hopefully we can come to some conclusions.”

Attendees at the meeting came up with up some preliminary ideas:

• Reduce the amount of pounds of halibut caught per day, by adopting a maximum size limit for halibut. In the past year, there has been no size limits for halibut.

• Reduce the number of open days per week; possibly being open three to four days per week. In recent years, the fishery had been Tuesdays through Saturdays.

• Limit the number of halibut allowed per person each year, which is a similar rule used in the Columbia River sturgeon fishery. In doing so, fisheries would adopt a weekly and/or annual bag limit, possibly three to five fish per year; use catch-record cards or halibut tags for enforcement of the proposed rule.

• Do not allow charter-boat crews to take home fish, by limiting the amount of fish charter boats can retain.

Other ways to quell the catch would be to implement area closures on “hot spots” where large halibut congregate; split the nearshore area off from the offshore area (with separate quotas); close the season during certain weeks of the year for more consistency; and promote public education and increase enforcement efforts.

Any proposed changes would apply to the 2006 season.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council holds semiannual meetings (September and November), so these options would need to be finalized by the end of July 2005.

State Fish and Wildlife plans to have more public meetings leading up to the deadline.

As for 2005, “the initial staff recommendation (by the International Pacific Halibut Commission) for everything south of the U.S.-Canada border is a catch of 1.33-million pounds,” Anderson said. “(That is) down from 1.48-million pounds last year, but it is still a high level compared to past years.”

The IPHC will meet on Jan. 18-21 in Victoria, B.C., to discuss all West Coast halibut fisheries.


• The Jingle Bell Run and Walk is today at Westlake Center, on Fifth Avenue and Pine Street in downtown Seattle. The kids run starts at 8:20 a.m., and the run and walk starts at 8:50 a.m. Registration begins at 6:45 a.m. Details: 206-547-2707 or www.arthritis.org.

• Opening ski weekend at Mount Hood Meadows was postponed by rain. A pending opening will be determined on a day-to-day basis.

• The FIS Snowboard World Championships are Jan. 15-22 at Whistler-Blackcomb Resort in British Columbia. The event is free to spectators at Base II at Blackcomb Mountain, and will draw about 650 athletes from 40 countries. Event schedule: Jan. 15, opening ceremonies featuring the McDonald’s Rail Session; Jan. 16, Nissan Snowboard Cross; Jan. 18, Parallel Giant Slalom; Jan. 19, TELUS Parallel Slalom; Jan. 21, The Province Big Air; and Jan. 22, McDonald’s Half Pipe. Details: www.whistlerblackcomb.com.

• A steelhead fishing seminar is 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 8 at Three Rivers Marine and Tackle, 24300 Woodinville-Snohomish Road. Various fishing reps will be on hand to offer tips. Cost is $10 per person for the seminar segment, which includes Dave Vedder, Bill Herzog and Dick Amato. Seminar is limited to 200 people. Details: 425-415-1575.

• The Seattle Poggie Fishing Club will have a free winter steelhead fishing clinic at 7 p.m. Thursday at West Marine in Bellevue. Details: 206-364-6361 or www.seattlepoggies.com.

• The Washington Fly Fishing Club is hosting an eight-week beginning fly-tying class beginning Jan. 6. Pre-registration is required. Details: 206-932-4925 or 206-542-4623.

• The American Lung Association of Washington will host a meeting for those interested in “The Climb For Clean Air” on Mount Rainier at 7 p.m. on Jan. 11 at the Seattle REI Store, 22 Yale Ave. N. Last year, 84 climbers joined mountaineer Lou Whittaker on the climb. Details: 206-441-5100 ext. 22 or 800-732-9339 or www.alaw.org.

• The North Cascades Institute is offering a Jan. 8 tour of the Skagit River to see bald eagles. Naturalist Libby Mills will join the group to watch the migration of eagles as they feed on chum salmon. Cost is $65 per person. Details: 360-856-5700 or www.ncascades.org.

• The Seattle Mountaineers Club is offering a basic climbing course that runs for six months, with one lecture and field trip each month. Following the classroom and field training sessions, students experience climbs in the full range of the Cascades. Cost is $310 per person. Details: 206-284-8484 or www.mountaineers.org/2005bcc.html.

• SkiAttle buses are offering rides for middle- and high-school students from Edmonds, Mukilteo, Seattle, Shoreline and Stanwood school districts this winter on Friday nights to Summit at Snoqualmie and Sundays to Mount Baker. Details: 425-776-7832.

• The Tengu Winter Blackmouth Derby will be held on Sundays — Dec. 19 and 26; and Jan. 2, 9, 16 and 23. Membership fee is $12 for the entire derby, $6 for children 12 and younger. Daily start is daybreak until 11 a.m. at Seacrest Boathouse in West Seattle. Details: 206-324-7600.

• The state Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation is looking for four volunteers to fill vacancies on its 15-member National Recreational Trails Program advisory committee. The trails committee advises on program policies, project funding and statewide planning. Generally, members are asked to attend one weekday meeting a year and spend 10 to 20 hours evaluating projects for funding. Application deadline is Jan. 28. Details: 360-902-3008 or www.iac.wa.gov.

• Northwest Trek in Enumclaw is hosting the Trek Holiday Breakfast 8:30 a.m.-11 a.m. on Dec. 12, 18 and 19. There will be a family home-style breakfast in the Fir Bough Café. Reservations are required. Cost is $20 adults, and $10 for children under age 10. Details: 360-832-7166 or www.nwtrek.org.

• The Tahoma Audubon’s Family Discovery Day at Morse Wildlife Preserve in Graham is Dec. 29 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Activities include nature trail interpretation, discovering pond creatures and viewing birds form the preserve’s observation tower. Storyteller Rebecca Hom will also be on hand. Details: 253-565-9278.

• Registrations are now being accepted for the 2005 Yukon River Quest, the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world. Race dates next year are June 29 to July 3. The 740-kilometer (460-mile) paddling marathon is held on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon Territory. A record 51 teams started this year’s race, and 35 completed the event. The race is open to recreational tandem canoes, tandem and solo sea kayaks, and voyageur canoes that may carry six to 14 paddlers. Cost is $600 Canadian for tandem canoes and kayaks, $300 for solo kayaks, and $200 per person for voyageur teams. The race is limited to 70 teams and entry deadline is May 26, 2005. Cash prizes are awarded to the top 10 teams. Details: www.yukonriverquest.com.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or myuasa@seattletimes.com