Homer and halibut go hand in hand. After all, anyone can see from the top of Baycrest hill that Homer is the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.”. So when the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC) was deciding on a place to hold the first annual Halibut Festival, Homer was an easy choice.
“We’ve been known for Halibut for many years,” said Hannah Heimbuch, the community fisheries organizer for the AMCC who resides in Homer, “and Homer has a robust halibut fishing community for both charters and commercial fishing, making it a logical choice for the Halibut Festival.”
With so many interested stakeholders for the Halibut fishery here in Homer, Heimbuch is hoping to create a community event that celebrates this commonly shared resource and educates about the issues that surround its use.
On the educational side of things, the festival is sponsoring a round of presentations in which scientists will highlight the ecology of the halibut population and the economy of the fishery itself. A member of the International Pacific Halibut Commission will speak about how policy for the fishery itself is formed.
“One of my goals is to educate about the policy process. It can be very complicated, and this is a great opportunity to educate the public about how it’s done,” Heimbuch said.
Although there’s time slated for serious education during the festival, there’s also a lot of space for celebration and enjoyment. Keri-Ann Baker, a board member of the Homer Chamber of Commerce, which is in large part sponsoring the festival, said she was excited to create an event that allows a wide range of people within the community to connect with the Halibut fishery.
“We’d love to create a table where the conservation community, the youth, businesses and all the stakeholders can sit down and have a place to celebrate these resources within Homer,” she said.
One of those tables will be supplied at the community fish fry at Coal Point, where the public is welcome to come and enjoy some Halibut and discuss the resource.
This year’s festival also places a large emphasis on encouraging young people to learn about and participate in the fisheries. There has been a significant “greying of the fleet” trend, with fewer young people taking over for their older counterparts as they retire from the fishing industry.
“We really want to build momentum around the young people that are trying to get into the fisheries and get them involved in the policy process,” Heimbuch said.
On Sunday there will be a presentation and luncheon with Severine von Tscharner Fleming, director of a national organization called Greenhorns, whose mission is to educate and support young farmers. Fleming will discuss the lessons she has learned during her time with Greenhorns, and how they could inform those youth breaking into the fishing industry. Afterwards, there will be a round table discussion with Fleming where young fishermen can bring up issues and ideas they have for the halibut fishery.
The true celebration of all things Halibut during the festival will be on Saturday evening at Alice’s Champagne Palace, during the Halibut Cabaret. One of the highlights of the evening will be the FisherPoets, local performers spinning words around the fishing lifestyle in poetry, prose and song.
“For the last 20 years there has been a FisherPoets gathering in Astoria, Ore. We’d love to start a similar celebration here in Homer,” Heimuch said.
In between songs and stories, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council will be auctioning off buoys that have been decorated by local artists. All proceeds from the auction will go towards operating costs of this year’s festival, and to support next year’s festival.
This is the first year for the Homer Halibut Festival, but both Heimbuch and Baker hope for many more to come.
“I would love for the festivals each year to be a reflection of what the Homer fishing community wants to share with the fisheries,” Heimbuch said.
Aryn Young is a freelance writer living in Homer.
HOMER HALIBUT FESTIVAL
Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center:
9 a.m.-1p.m.: State of our Halibut: Ecology, Economy, Policy Presentations
Ecology: the state of the Pacific halibut population
Economy: the impact of our halibut fisheries – local to global
11:45 a.m.-1 p.m.
Policy: the state of North Pacific halibut management
Coal Point Trading Co.
1:30-3:30 p.m.: Community fish fry, fillet and careful release demonstrations, ocean acidification kiosk demonstration, music
Alice’s Champagne Palace
6-9 p.m.: Halibut Cabaret with musicians, fisherpoets, and the art buoy auction
10 a.m.: Halibut Hustle 5K Run
Same day registration starts at 8 a.m.
$15 for adults, $5 for kids 10 and under
Homer Council on the Arts
Noon: Greenhorns: Lessons of Young Farmers for Young Fishermen
1:15 p.m.: A conversation with young fishermen