Big halibut landed off St. Paul Island

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2003

ANCHORAGE What might be the largest Pacific halibut ever documented was pulled from the Bering Sea off St. Paul Island on Sept. 5 by the crew of the fishing boat Miss Mary.

The 8-foot, 2-inch behemoth tipped the scales at 533 pounds, according to crewman Barry Davis of Anchorage, who provided photographs of the fish taken aboard the long liner skippered by his brother, Pat, from Seattle.

No official records are kept on the size of commercially caught halibut in Alaska, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Wildlife Notebook Series says the ''largest ever recorded for the Northern Pacific was a 495-pound fish caught near Petersburg.''

The International Pacific Halibut Commission, which manages halibut in the North Pacific, pegs the largest fish at an estimated 500 pounds. According to an IPHC publication: ''In 1974, an 8 foot, age 33 female was caught commercially in the Bering Sea, weighing 375 pounds gutted and estimated at 500 pounds whole.''

The fish caught earlier this month was two inches longer, at 98 inches. It outweighs by almost 75 pounds the sport-fishing record, set by Jack Tragis of Fairbanks near Dutch Harbor in 1996. That halibut tipped the scales at 459 pounds.

The Alaska Fisheries Science Center of the National Marine Fisheries Service claims halibut grow to more than 600 pounds but there is no evidence of anyone ever having seen such a fish in the Pacific. In the Atlantic there are reports of 9-foot-long flatfish weighing 700 pounds.

Barry Davis said he'd never seen anything quite like the monster that latched onto one of a string of about 1,000 hooks set about a mile and a half off St. Paul Island.

Almost as soon as the Miss Mary began hauling up the line, he said, ''the captain could feel (the halibut) down there. He knew there was a big fish coming up.''

Davis said everyone rushed to the rail of the 58-foot fishing boat.

''It was a beautiful day out there,'' he said, with clear skies and enough sunlight to penetrate the water down to about 40 feet. That's where the crew of the Miss Mary got a look at what appeared to be a bus coming up from a depth of about 210 feet.

''It was alive,'' Barry Davis said. ''It took all five of us to get it on board. It was kind of hard getting him over the rail. We had five gaffs in him. We weren't going to let him go.''

The fish was eventually delivered to a processor, or most of it was delivered.

''We're going to get the tail mounted,'' Davis said. The tail alone measures 24 1/2 inches across.

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