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; thus 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 Halibut Convention provided the authority to regulate the recreational fishery. After consultation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the National Marine Fisheries Service in the U.S.A., and the appropriate state agencies in Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington, the IPHC adopted recreational regulations in 1973. Prior to about 1975, taking of Pacific halibut by recreational fishers was usually incidental to saltwater fishing for salmon. Since that time, however, the popularity of bottomfish with recreational fishers has surged. Domestic agencies compile Pacific halibut catch estimates obtained through creel census and postal surveys in Alaska, and creel census and telephone interviews on the U.S.A. West Coast. DFO generates catch estimates for British Columbia from a combination of voluntary reporting and limited creel census sampling.
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 U.S.A. fishery management councils, and the individual states in the U.S.A., and cooperatively by IPHC and DFO in Canada. Methods for managing and limiting the recreational harvest vary by jurisdiction.