Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 8:34 PM on Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chamber considers changes to derby



BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG
STAFF WRITER

Although the waters of Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet still have a two-fish daily limit for all sport-caught halibut, proposed changes to how halibut is allocated between guided sport and commercial fisheries could lead to limits in number and size for guided anglers. Would new rules dramatically change the essence of the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby?

That's the question considered last Saturday at a meeting sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and the derby committee. The chamber invited charter captains, derby ticket vendors and anyone interested in the future of the derby to come and share ideas.

"There's unquestionably a challenge ahead for the jackpot derby," said Homer Chamber of Commerce executive director Monte Davis. "We're going to have to rise to that challenge. This is one of the first steps."

Currently, the big, five-figure prize of the derby goes to the angler with a derby ticket who catches the biggest halibut during the derby season. Other prizes are awarded for each month's biggest fish, the biggest fish caught monthly by a woman and for tagged fish.

That could change under the Halibut Catch Sharing Plan, or CSP, passed by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. That plan goes into effect when published in the Federal Register.

Another management system, the Guideline Harvest Level, currently allocates fish. Under an analysis he did comparing the GHL and the CSP, charter captain Rex Murphy said at all but the highest levels of harvestable fish, the charter fleet gets less under the CSP plan — up to 30 percent less in some scenarios.

That could mean restrictions in the number allowed to be taken daily, limits on the size of fish or a combination, Murphy said.

The jackpot derby won't know until January 2012 what restrictions, if any, will be put into place for area 3A, which includes Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet.

About 40 people attended Saturday's meeting.

"What came out of it was a plethora of really good ideas," Davis said. "All of them need to be taken up by the jackpot derby committee."

Ideas suggested include:

• As is done in shark fishing tournaments on the east coast, the halibut derby could be catch-and-release. Charter captains would use a standard measuring system, such as a measuring tape with a bobber at one end, to be placed next to the fish for an approximate measurement. A drawing would be held to determine the winner of fish over a set length.

• Expand the tagged fish contest and include more tagged fish with larger prizes. Davis noted tagged fish from previous years are still out there, and prizes could be offered for those.

• Incorporate the derby with scientific research, where anglers catch and release fish in coordination with fish biologists.

"We're looking at the different options for changing the derby," Davis said. "In that way, the meeting was really a success. Most people left there feeling better than when they arrived."

The jackpot derby and chamber are being proactive, Davis said. With changes to the derby not known until 2012, the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby Committee needs to have some options ready.

"As yet it hasn't happened, but we don't want to have our head in the sand, either," Davis said.

The derby committee will hold meetings over the next few months and have firm recommendations in place by the end of the year. Any changes will have to be approved by the Homer Chamber of Commerce board.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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