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Halibut limit reduction in SE Alaska frustrates sportfishing outfitters

May 14, 2009 |  2:07 pm

Tom Barkman (left) stands alongside a 170-pound halibut caught May 10 off Homer. Alaskans and fishermen planning to visit Alaska probably are aware that a new federal rule designed to protect halibut stocks is scheduled to go into effect June 5. It will reduce the daily catch limit aboard charter boats from two to one in Southeast Alaska.

Additionally, guides and crew are prohibited from catching and retaining halibut during charter trips. The issue is controversial, and those affected by the new National Marine Fisheries Service rule are steaming like the state's Mt. Redoubt volcano, which has been erupting for weeks and could harm tourism throughout Alaska -- largely by disrupting flight service -- during peak fishing season in late June and July.

As for the halibut rule, Seth Bone, who runs Kingfisher Charters in Sitka, predicted the battle isn't over yet. "The same thing happened last year, but it was challenged in court and reversed," said Bone, whose fleet targets salmon, halibut and rockfish. "I expect that there will be another legal challenge this time, and we'll see what the outcome is."

Not everyone is complaining. A  two-fish daily limit remains in effect on the Kenai Peninsula, where the season-long Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby began May 1. It annually draws anglers from throughout the U.S. The top fish so far, however, is a 170-pound halibut caught by Homer's Tom Barkman.

I realize this is a contentious issue, and there's a lot at stake because fishing trips in Alaska are not cheap and visitors are accustomed to bringing home box-loads of halibut steaks and fillets. But a single fish can weigh more than 400 pounds. How much meat does a tourist really need to justify the expense?

--Pete Thomas

Photo: Tom Barkman (left) stands alongside a 170-pound halibut caught May 10 off Homer. Credit: Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby