Alaska Dispatch News:


Let that barn door go, fisherman, and we’ll have halibut for years to come

Shannyn Moore

It’s been quite a week for the country. The Supreme Court has, despite a few judges who are holdovers from the dark ages, ruled a few things right. Wahoo! Gay weddings and access to health care! Wait. The working poor and our LGBT brothers and sisters are considered “people” by the court? It’s like they are corporations or something!  Because I’m not able to express my thoughts about the recent racially motivated slaughter in South Carolina without a string of bleeps and asterisks, I thought I’d write about fishing issues –something safe from controversy (cough).

This week a friend posted the latest derby leader in the Seward Halibut Derby. The current standing is 291 pounds of flat fish.

His post included, “We should no longer condone keeping these huge fish. It’s terrible for the long term health of the resource and they taste lousy.”

I’m treading in dangerous water here, folks. I was born in the Halibut Capital of the World and home of the longest running halibut derby. Celebrating the biggest caught halibut is like celebrating a family for having 20 kids — it’s not sustainable. To say it’s irresponsible is to put it mildly.

To one point of my friend’s claim they taste lousy — well, put it this way, would you eat a 25- or 30-year-old cow? Mmmm … tender, like a piece of wood. I prefer beef aged off the hoof. It’s hard to break this to folks, but halibut is the fish people who don’t like fish love to eat. The “chickens” are the best — the small ones. If you’re just fishing for a Facebook status, well, the bigger fish are cooler, but the fishery is paying a price for you to get more likes than pounds of fish.

Boy halibut and girl halibut are different. The boys stop growing at 70 pounds. Any halibut over that amount are chick fish. Way to go, ladies! The point of a lady halibut is to avoid all eating disorders and make lots of fish fry. The bigger the better. The giant fish you see strung up at docks are the nursery for future halibut.

The Homer Halibut Derby gives you a chance to win $500 if you let a fish over 48 inches free. So far Trevyn Days has been the only one to release such a fish and did win $500. So we give a few hundred bucks to a fisherman who realizes the value to that fish being back on the bottom, but tens of thousands if you keep a big one. That makes no sense.

How about this: If you catch a fish over 48 inches and want to keep it that’s fine, but you are entered into a derby to have to pay $10,000 to halibut habitat and nursery programs.

Pretty sure there are a few halibut charter people cross with me right now, but they should know I don’t blame them. They go along with the rules and have been the ones limited while bycatch continues to the tune of millions of pounds dumped overboard because they aren’t pollock or cod.

I guess that’s why I’m writing this. I want people to fish. It’s part of who we are, and I love pulling up a barn door of a halibut and having my arms feel like they were going to be as long as the boat by the time I could see what I’d caught. That’s amazing. I have halibut insecurity when I don’t have at least a few pounds put up in the freezer for a ceviche or beer batter night. There are still lots of halibut — they just aren’t very big and we need the big ones to keep making whoopie in the the bottom of the ocean to make sure there are fish for future generations.

If you read the latest reports from the Halibut Commission — and I do because I’m nerdy about fish — you’ll see the numbers of fish aren’t the problem as much as size. They seem to be growing slower. They have to compete for food in a way they haven’t before because of the change in water temperature, which is bringing in other species.

I’m not asking for some new fish rules to deal with this issue. I just want folks going out to have a great day on the water and bounce a halibut hook across the bottom to think about it before they take out the giant halibut hens that are laying the golden eggs of our future stocks.

Thanks, Trevyn Days. Fish on, folks.

Shannyn Moore is a radio broadcaster.

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