Halibut Derby Sports New Technology, Improved Sustainability

Shady Grove Oliver

     The annual Jackpot Halibut Derby opened May 15th, and so far, it’s off to a strong start.

     “It’s the longest running halibut derby with the largest payout in the state of Alaska," says Jim Lavrakas, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce. 

     He says there have been some changes to the derby over the past few years to make it more sustainable and enjoyable. In 2012 the organizing committee decided they needed to be more conservation-conscious.

     “And make an effort to turn the focus of the derby away from catching the large, large fish, which are females," says Lavrakas. "You know, those are breeding fish. If you start taking too many of those out of the water, you start to make the gene pool not as robust and so on. So, we made a move to have more tags with big prizes on the tags.”

     Because of recent changes to halibut charter fishing regulations, Lavrakas says this year, the committee decided to tag smaller fish. Historically, anglers on charter boats had a bag limit of two fish of any size. Now, it’s been reduced to one fish of any size and second fish 29 inches or smaller, or about ten pounds.

     “So, we were concerned that if somebody caught a 30 or 40 inch fish with a tag in it, and had already caught their big fish, they would have to throw that tagged fish back because they had already caught their fish over 29 inches," says Lavrakas. "So, we purposefully tagged—went out and found fish under 29 inches to tag—so that wouldn’t happen.”

     Since the move away from catching the barn-door halibut about two years ago, Lavrakas says he’s noticed more larger fish, closer to town.

     “When we went to tag the fish, it was hard for our captains to find fish that were 29 inches and smaller," says Lavrakas. "Just saying, in general, the class of fish that is out there is getting bigger, so that’s good. We started hearing good-size fish being caught earlier than usual.”

     He says, since the start of the derby, there have been regular catches of 30 or 40 pounders. Even half-day boats fishing close to Homer have had luck with larger fish. Also this year, there’s a catch-and-release option for anglers who reel in those larger halibut. Anyone who releases a fish of 50 inches or more will be entered into a drawing for a cash prize.

     The derby is also sporting some new technology this year. There’s a new, real-time, online leaderboard.

     “In the past, it’s been paper and emails and kind of a static leaderboard or current standings on our webpage," says Lavrakas. "Now, this is very live and people can check it at any time and see what happened that day.”

     Anyone can go to the derby website, pull up the leaderboard, and see changes to standings soon after the fish hit the docks. He says it’s received a lot of positive feedback.

     “People are really getting excited about seeing their fish in fifth place," says Lavrakas. "It doesn’t have to be the first place fish anymore. But, they can see they bumped this guy out from last week and so on. So, there’s an excitement generated from this new, online leaderboard.”

     In terms of standings, there have been a few changes over the last week.Troy Winters of Dayville, Oregon, moved into seventh place with his 99.6 pound halibut. Weldon Creech of Houston, Texas, is now in fifth place with his 110.6 pounder. And, Mike Leno of Madras, jumped to third place with his 139 pound fish.

     Michael Martini, of Sunman, Indiana stays in second place with his 141.8 pounder caught June fifth. And Molly Maltby from Cheboygan, Michigan still stands in first place with her 196.8 pound halibut caught on June sixth.

     The Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby continues through September 15th.