HOMER, Alaska — Visitors to Homer are welcomed by a sign at the top of Baycrest Hill proclaiming Homer the "halibut fishing capital of the world."
Is it true?
"There are two thoughts on that: more halibut gets moved across the fish dock or more people come here to sport fish for halibut. I would say both things," said Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins. "It is the largest port for commercially caught halibut. On the other side of it, the sport-recreational side, Homer is very popular for sportfishing halibut."
While the moniker is true, Monte Davis, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce, believes the title first was self-proclaimed.
"No one else had it, so Homer reached up and grabbed the title 'fishing capital of the world' and it has stuck and been true," said Davis. "We are still the number one commercial halibut dock in the world and, although Seward and Valdez have a certain amount of charter captains that do halibut, almost all do halibut for awhile and then silver (salmon). Here, we have a dedicated fleet of (halibut) charter operators."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries provides information on pounds of commercial caught halibut landed at Alaska docks since 1995.
In that year, 7.5 million pounds were landed in Kodiak; Homer came in second with 3.1 million; Sitka was third with 2.8 million. In 1998, Homer pulled ahead with 10.6 million pounds, followed by Kodiak at 9 million and Seward at 5.4 million.
More than 13.6 million pounds is the highest recorded for Homer since 1995. That was in 2002, with Kodiak claiming 7.9 million pounds and Seward in third place with 7.6 million. So far in 2011, Homer is maintaining a narrow lead over Kodiak in pounds of halibut landed:
— Homer: 3,545,564 pounds;
— Kodiak: 3,451,128 pounds;
—Seward: 2,654,670 pounds.
In each of the years recorded since 1995, Alaska has led pounds recorded for Oregon, Washington and Canada.
When it comes to sport-caught halibut, Homer also brings in millions of pounds, according to numbers provided by Scott Meyer, fishery biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Homer.
In 1995, 1.7 million pounds of recreationally caught Pacific halibut were recorded for the Lower Cook Inlet, the area south of Anchor Point. The most recently recorded numbers were 1.5 million pounds in 2009, with the highest yearly amount between 1995 and 2009 at 2.2 million pounds in 2004.
"It is safe to say that more halibut are caught in Lower Cook Inlet than any other area of the state or world, The next closest area in terms of harvest is Central Cook Inlet, the Deep Creek-Anchor Point fishery. Lower Cook Inlet is consistently a little larger," said Meyer.
As far as the sign at the top of Baycrest, Derotha Ferraro, a former chamber executive director, recalled the sign was a product of chamber members in the mid- to late-1980s. Jon Faulkner, who retired from the chamber board in 1990, said the sign caused "a little push-back from Seward as I recall, but Homer never blinked."
When it comes to a global perspective, Davis has no doubt where Homer fits in. "There's no question about it," he said. "Certainly Homer is the halibut capital of Alaska, and if Alaska, then the world."