In an era of uncertainity about the future of halibut stocks and the amount of halibut Homer’s charter fleet can catch, the Homer Chamber Commerce today announced major changes to its 26-year-old Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby. The big changes include:
• Reducing the jackpot prize to $10,000 for the largest halibut caught during the derby period of May 15 to Sept. 15;
• Adding two grand-prize tagged fish, the $50,000 GCI tagged fish and the Stanley Ford of Kenai Ford F-150 truck tagged fish; and
• Eliminating the monthly prizes for trophy halibut and adding monthly drawings for catch-and-release fish estimated to be more than 50 pounds.
Big derby prizes of $45,000 and more for the biggest fish caught will end. Under previous rules, the fisherman who had a derby ticket and caught the biggest halibut of the season took home 20-percent of the derby ticket sales. Last year’s derby winner, Chad Aldridge, received $28,260 for his 350.8-pound halibut. The biggest jackpot was $48,675, won in 2002 by Clayton McDowell of Eagle River for his 347-pound fish.
The derby is the chamber’s major fundraiser.
The Homer Chamber of Commerce announced changes to the derby at a presentation today at the GCI store at the Sears Mall, Anchorage. The presentation was done there to take advantage of statewide television coverage from Anchorage TV stations.
The Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby committee began revising the rules last summer in response to proposed changes in halibut management of charter-caught sport halibut.
“We recognized that halibut stocks are not what they once were, and we wanted to be a proactive leader in conservation,” said Monte Davis, executive director of the chamber.
Declining halibut stocks and suggested rules drove the chamber to change its rules. Last summer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries released its proposed catch sharing plan. If it had been approved, the catch sharing plan would have given the guided sport halibut charter fleet a set percentage of the overall allowable catch determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. That rule could have meant reductions in daily catch limits to one fish or a second fish of a smaller size.
After receiving more than 4,000 comments, NOAA Fisheries sent the plan back to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for more work. The IPHC last month approved halibut catch limits that keep the Area 3A sport-caught daily bag limit at two fish, but charter captains have been fearful that the bag limit could be reduced either through the catch sharing plan or other regulatory measures. Area 3A includes Homer.
Biologists have said that while female halibut 200 pounds or more produce more eggs, they’re not as fertile and are a relatively small amount of the breeding population. Smaller females are a greater part of the breeding stock — a group that could be hit by fishermen trying to win monthly prizes.
Even though a big derby leader might be up on the board in June or July, fishermen would still target trophy fish to win the monthly prizes. Davis said it’s hoped that doing away with the monthly prizes for big fish will reduce stress on the more-productive females.
“Knowing that those are the prime breeding stock of the halibut fishery, we can’t do that in good conscience,” he said of continuing the monthly prizes.
Fishermen can still go for monthly prizes, but now with the catch-and-release fishery. Guides and fishermen are on their honor if they release fish weighing 50 pounds or more. If they do, their derby ticket goes in a $1,000 drawing held about every 30 days, on June 15, July 15, Aug. 15 and Sept. 15. Anglers 55 and older and active-duty or retired military releasing big fish also can enter two $250 prize categories.
The $50,000 GCI and the Stanley Ford of Kenai Ford-150 truck tagged fish top other tagged fish prizes of from $250 to $10,000. As in past years, 100 tagged fish will be released in the spring. To build suspense, though, this year the prize of any tagged fish will be kept secret until the end. Tagged fish must be delivered intact to derby headquarters. The tag numbers and corresponding prizes will be locked in a vault. Tags only have the year and number, with no identification on the tag as to what the prize is.
A new wrinkle this year is that a $100 prize will be awarded to any derby ticket holder who catches a fish tagged from any prior year. Anglers will receive the prize in Homer Bucks, local currency in $5 amounts issued by the chamber and good at any chamber member business.
Chamber members can redeem Homer Bucks at the chamber — even use them to pay for chamber dues. The old tagged fish is the only Homer Bucks prize.
The idea is that fishermen won’t take the money up the road and spend it out of town, Davis said.
“We want people to be shopping our stores locally,” he said. “I hope that we drive business into local members’ doors.”
Charter captains and other businesses also will see a change that rewards them for selling the $10 derby tickets: they get a $1 commission from each sale.
Davis said the derby changes weren’t made lightly.
“The Halibut Derby committee worked really hard on the changes and thought long and hard about making them,” he said.
The derby changes emphasize a new approach to the halibut fishery, Davis said.
“I think it’s important that we be conservation minded in our hearts, but also that we’re perceived as being conservation minded by the public,” he said. “It’s important that the halibut fishery is healthy not just for the sport fishery, but the commercial fishery.”
Other aspects of the derby won’t change, such as a $100 prize for any left-sided halibut, a drawing for young anglers age 12 and under, and an end-of-season $5,000 drawing for anyone who buys a derby ticket.
Oh, and there’s one new rule that even rewards people who don’t buy derby tickets. If a fisherman catches an old tagged fish and doesn’t have a derby ticket, they won’t get $100 in Homer Bucks, but they will get a prize — a derby hat.