By Jona Hamson
Just for the Halibut. I’m sure, if you have been around a halibut community, you have heard this phrase before. For most people it’s a funny play on words but to me it means an early morning, meeting six new people, baiting their hooks, and releasing halibut after halibut until it is the “right one”. Yes, sometimes there is salmon, lingcod, or rockfish but there is always halibut. In the life of a deckhand, come rain or shine, we are going out just for the halibut.
Though I am not from Alaska it still has played a huge role in who I am today. For the past five years, my summer break has been spent in Alaska on it’s beautiful, bountiful, and seemingly endless water as a deckhand in Homer on charter boats and last summer as a deckhand on my dad’s gillnetter. For me, life without the Pacific halibut fishery means there would have been no deckhand job to finance my education, build life long friendships, or propel myself into a meaningful career. Working on charter boats has allowed me to understand on a personal level the need for conservation so that the halibut industry can continue to thrive so that future generations may have the opportunity I have been given through this fishery.
There have been big management changes in the halibut sportfishing sector, since I started coming to Homer. Many of them are aimed at addressing concerning declines in the population of our beloved halibut, while trying to balance opportunities to catch fish. This season brought some new regulations with it that everyone in the charter business is still getting used to.
Under the Halibut Catch Sharing Plan (CSP), the recreational fishing sector is being held to some of the same policies that commercial boats have been held to for years. “Wastage” or fish that are caught but released will be counted, and the number of those fish estimated to die as a result of release mortality will be taken off the top of the sport sector’s allocation in the coming year. In other words, the sport sector has an incentive to be mindful of the numbers of fish released and how they are treated. Also new in southcentral this year, the charter sector is dealing with an under 29’’ size limit for the second halibut caught, which is almost certain to result in greater numbers of fish released.
A new project is under way called “Every Halibut Counts” that aims to minimize the injury and mortality to released fish by arming guided and unguided fishermen with tips for releasing halibut carefully and with minimal injury. The project is collaboration between charter boat operators including Captain Pete Wedin who I work for, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and Alaska Sea Grant.
Halibut are hardy fish; much more sturdy than a trout for example when released. Yet, as a deckhand I know first hand the difference between good and bad ways to treat a fish you plan to release. As part of the project, a steering committee of charter operators and scientists has developed a set of best practices for gently releasing halibut that is now being disseminated across coastal Alaska. Much of this will be common sense to those of us in the business. But hopefully by sharing these tips and best practices, we can raise the bar and ensure we are doing all we can to conserve this important resource.
This summer, I will be serving as an intern with the project and will be on the docks with information on the best practices. Part of my role is also to get feedback and ideas from you on how to release fish gently, how you are adapting to the size limit, or what other concerns you have for the halibut resource. We are also hoping to get charter businesses to add their name to the list of project supporters.
By working together and taking some simple steps to treat every halibut like it counts, we can help support a healthier future for halibut and those of us who depend on them. You can visit www.everyhalibutcounts.org for more information, to add your name to list. Feel free to contact me to talk more about this project by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org; you know, just for the halibut.
Jona Hamson is a intern working for Alaska Marine Conservation Council on the Every Halibut Counts project.
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