Washington state’s fishing seasons for coastal bottomfish and lingcod will open March 9 under new rules that reflect stronger growth in two rockfish species in recent years.
State fishery managers say those rules will provide new fishing opportunities for rockfish, Pacific cod, whiting, sole, lingcod, cabazon, and more than a dozen other bottomfish species in ocean waters.
Anglers can catch up to nine bottomfish per day – including up to seven rockfish, two lingcod, and one cabezon – plus three additional flat fish, under rules adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for the upcoming season.
Heather Hall, WDFW coastal policy coordinator, outlined several changes since last year that will provide new fishing opportunities for bottomfish anglers:
· Fewer depth restrictions: In coastal areas where depth restrictions are in place, anglers will have about one extra month to fish in deeper waters. This is largely due to a higher federal incidental catch limit for yelloweye rockfish, which are rebounding more quickly than expected.
· Canary rockfish: Anglers can now retain up to seven canary rockfish a day, up from two in previous years. This species is now considered healthy after a 19-year federal rebuilding process, so the previous species-specific sublimit is no longer necessary.
· Cabazon: The size limit for this species has been removed on the north coast in Marine Area 4 (west of Bonilla-Tatoosh), and the daily limit in all coastal marine areas will be one per day.
Of these measures, Hall said none will boost fishing opportunities more than a decision made last December by the Pacific Fishery Management Council to increase the sport fishery’s incidental catch limit for yelloweye rockfish. The new limit is 17,196 pounds, compared to 7,275 pounds last year.
That action was based on a stock assessment conducted by the NMFS that showed that the yelloweye population is growing faster than previously estimated.
“This is the biggest increase in the incidental catch limit since the council began its rebuilding plan 17 years ago,” Hall said. “Not only is the stock more productive than previously thought, but the rebuilding process benefited from action taken by anglers to use descending devices and improve the survivability of rockfish that must be released.”
Because yelloweye rockfish are still the focus of a federal rebuilding plan, anglers must release any of those fish they intercept, Hall said. However, year’s higher allowable incidental catch limit will increase fishing opportunities for other bottomfish in deepwater areas.
New fishing rules approved for the coming season vary by area from north to south:
· Marine Area 4 (west of Bonilla-Tatoosh line): The higher yelloweye rockfish limit will allow WDFW to open the lingcod season March 9 – consistent with other coastal marine areas and a month earlier than last year.
· Marine Areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay, west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line): The 20-fathom depth restriction won’t take effect until June 1, giving anglers more than three extra weeks to fish for lingcod and other bottomfish in those areas. In addition, anglers fishing seaward of the 20 fathom line in July and August on days open to recreational salmon fishing will be allowed to keep yellowtail and widow rockfish for the first time since 2005.
· Marine Area 2 (Westport): The 30-fathom depth restriction will be in place from March 9 through May 31, two weeks less than in previous years. Similar to past years, lingcod retention will be allowed seaward of 30 fathoms on days open to the recreational halibut fishery. The deepwater area will then be open from June 1 through June 15, giving anglers the opportunity to target lingcod in that area.
Deepwater fishing rules will remain unchanged in Marine Area 1 (Ilwaco), because WDFW does not impose depth restrictions in those waters. However, anglers will be allowed to keep lingcod on halibut trips during the entire halibut season rather than just during the month of May.
More information on Washington’s 2019 bottomfish season is available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/creel/halibut/.