Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:51 PM on Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Whether caught sport or commercial, halibut vital to town


Six weeks into the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, no one had caught a barn door-sized halibut. Last Wednesday, that changed when longtime local Eileen Bechtol brought in a 277.8-pounder that would have won her the derby in 2010.

Then on Father's Day, two more fishermen brought in even bigger fish. Alas, one fisherman who had a 300-pounder didn't have a derby ticket. Hours later Chad Aldridge of Sterling caught a 350.8-pound halibut that put him in the lead.

Derby fever has hit Homer.

The annual summer excitement over the derby reminds us of the importance to Homer of halibut sport fishing. That's not the whole picture, though. Take a walk down the Spit from derby headquarters to Fishdock Road and you'll see the equally important commercial halibut fishing industry.

Though the charter fleet has gone through changes lately, this summer the derby survives. Whether on a charter or private boat, for the price of $10 a derby ticket, anyone can have a shot at glory. Unlike Southeast Alaska, which has tighter fishing regulations, Homer, Kachemak Bay and lower Cook Inlet still have a two-fish a day limit on halibut.

Unlike Southeast Alaska, too, the commercial and sport fishing interests have not gotten as antagonistic. We're all neighbors here, and no matter how we bring halibut to port, all can agree that those beautiful fish are a resource worth protecting.

The challenge lately has been how to manage the resource wisely and how to allocate it fairly. The first is relatively easy: give researchers the tools and funding they need to understand the Pacific Ocean halibut population. The science should be objective, rigorous and free of influence.

Allocating halibut fairly? That's harder. A new plan passed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to allocate halibut among the fisheries, the Halibut Catch Sharing Plan, could mean big changes to the charter industry when it takes effect. Earlier this month, the Homer Chamber of Commerce held a meeting to brainstorm new ideas for the derby.

Change looks to be a constant as the halibut population fluctuates. Fewer fish means more tension as interest groups divide up a smaller pie.

We're lucky to have a thriving halibut fishery working out of Homer. Let's hope that continues, and that for years to come we can praise lucky fishermen, however they bring in the halibut.

And congratulations to Bechtol, who still leads as the top lady angler, and for her short-term glory. Congratulations to Aldridge, too, for his derby leader — so far. Who knows? The derby record is 376 pounds. It still could be broken.

Oh — and don't forget your derby ticket.