Having worked in Alaska’s fisheries for 40 years, I was surprised to learn only recently that about half of all halibut caught by sport fishermen are released.
Anglers let them go because they are too small, too big, would exceed the size or bag limits, or they just enjoy catch-and-release fishing.
Most halibut survive release, but improper handling can injure or even kill a halibut.
Some progressive fishing charter operators have stepped up to spread the word that releasing fish carefully is a way their sector can help to preserve the resource and set a good example of sustainable use.
They approached the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and Alaska Sea Grant with the idea of developing and sharing best practices for careful release of halibut in the sport fishery. The project, known as Every Halibut Counts, offers some useful tips to charter operators, their clients, and unguided anglers.
Charter captains volunteered for an industry advisory group and, working with scientists from ADFG and the International Pacific Halibut Commission, drafted a short list of easily-adopted methods that will help protect the halibut resource for the future.
The basic principle is simple: treat every halibut you intend to release with respect and care.
The details are equally simple: Release a fish while still in the water if possible. If you must bring it aboard, handle it gently; keep it from flopping and protect it from injury.
Don’t lift any fish only by the tail, or by the gills; cradle it with the other hand. Unhook by rolling out the circle hook by hand or using a long-handle tool with curved end. If the fish is too big or injured, cut the leader next to the hook. Reel in quickly to minimize exhaustion and stress on the fish.
Always use circle hooks when bait fishing. Leave the “chicken patch” or any location if you are catching fish you don’t want to keep.
This collaborative project offers free brochures, boat placards, stickers and a video, along with more information, at www.everyhalibutcounts.org.