Homer Chamber of Commerce ends halibut derby

The 2019 Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby winner got a prize of $13,160.50 for his 224.2-pound barn door, but Jason Schuler also can add a footnote to his trophy: He’s the last of a 34-year run of derby winners.

In a press release on Sept. 10, the Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center board of directors announced it is ending the derby at the close of this year’s event on Sept. 15. Schuler, of Wahpeton, North Dakota, caught his fish on July 12, on the Optimist while fishing with Captain Daniel Donich of Daniel’s Personalized Guide Service.

In another big move, the chamber announced last week that Executive Director Debbie Speakman resigned effective Sept. 17. Visitor center and community events manager Jan Knutson will serve as interim director while the board seeks a replacement, with a job announcement to be released soon. Speakman served for the past two years, succeeding previous director Karen Zak. Speakman did not provide a reason for leaving, Knutson said.

Other halibut derby winners this year were Martina Parrish of Bozeman, Montana, who won $1,000 in the “Just for the Halibut” raffle. Vincent Kruzick of Soldotna won the $500 released fish prize for releasing a big halibut on the wate. Kids prize winners were Brooks Smith of Pomeroy, Washington, Evan of Chicago, Logan of Wasilla, Alayna Naylor of Wasilla, and and Jack Brixey of Altaville, California. A 4-H member, Brixey said he would use his $225 prize to buy a pig for the fair. Five tagged fish worth $250 and one worth $1,000 were caught.

Instead of a derby, the chamber will hold a halibut tournament similar to its popular winter king salmon tournament going forward. Planning in still in the works, said Chamber Marketing Director Amy Woodruff, but the halibut tournament will be held the first week of June.

“If you look at it from the perspective of the derby not being the draw it once was, that’s the time of year the charter fishermen are getting started,” she said. “… It’s a chance to kick off the season in a good way.’

Woodruff said the board made its decision due to declining derby ticket sales.

“The derby was originally conceived to market Homer as a fishing destination. Marketing has changed so much in the past 34 years,” she said.

Where before people might have come to Homer for the derby, they’re now coming to Homer to fish, with the derby less of an attraction.

“I think fishing is still a big draw,” Woodruff said. “I know people who live here because they can fish year round. It’s one of the things we’re putting out to people to encourage them to visit Homer — certainly not the only thing.”

The end of the derby follows several years of regulation changes in the guided sport fish halibut fishery.

“I see the charter operators adapting to the regulations,” Woodruff said. “I don’t think the decline in (derby) ticket sales can be attributed to fewer days of fishing.”

In an attempt to spark more interest in the derby, the chamber made changes such as adding on monthly prizes, bigger tagged fish prizes and a prize just for buying a derby ticket. At the same time, the chamber put more effort into fundraisers like this year’s Bay Weld Boat raffle.

“It became more complicated in an attempt to be more diversified,” Woodruff said of the derby.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.