Homer’s updated version of the local Halibut Festival runs June 1-30. The event started about 34 years ago and used to run all summer long. It is now shortened to a one-month event with less emphasis on chasing the biggest halibut for the entire season.
With COVID conflicts in 2019, the chamber shut down the event and reopened it in 2021. 2023 offers new variations, starting off with the inaugural Big ‘But Ball that took place at Homer’s Elks Lodge on Saturday.
Executive Director Brad Anderson and President Michael Daniel on Saturday shared some more details about the June festival during a break in preparing festivities for the ball.
“The community of Homer has labeled itself ‘Halibut Fishing Capital of the World’ for a long time and when the derby shut down in 2019 we needed to find a new way to celebrate that title,” Anderson said. “We wanted to look at some ways we could boost tourism in the shoulder months, especially June for businesses and lodging in the community.”
Over the course of the original jackpot derby, the event was starting to lose steam and interest, even without the COVID conflicts, according to Anderson. It ran all summer long from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and it was an intensive project for the chamber.
“Fishermen needed a physical derby ticket to participate. It was hard to get the charter captains to consistently participate for the entire three-month event,” Anderson said.
There have also been increasing concerns over sustainability of the halibut sport industry. Promotion to capture the largest halibut all summer long started to become a public relations concern for the city. The board decided to retire that longer historic event and consider doing a two-day tournament instead but that didn’t seem to fit with general summer preparation plans in June, either, according to Anderson.
“We’ve had discussions with Homer’s Alaska Department of Fish and Game and there has been concern over maintaining the health of the sport industry and biomass of the halibut fishery as a whole and the department recommended a shorter, one-month festival,” Anderson said.
Another component of the festival this year is the option to release one of the largest fish, but still keep a derby ticket and be entered for a $2,000 prize.
The tournament headquarters and weigh-in area are located at Buttwhackers Fillet Company on the top of Ramp 1 behind the Salty Dawg Saloon.
This year, the chamber’s one-month celebration also includes a new Summer Solstice Festival that will take place on June 21 at Homer’s Deep Water Dock.
That event will include a free, live music performance with a charity organization called “Operation Encore.”
Veteran musicians from across the country will perform, including: Steven Covell, Andrew Wiscombe, Shannon Book, Barbara Simm, Rachel Hill, Brandon Mills and Schafer Mueller.
These artists will arrive in Homer on July 14 to spend some time on the Heroes Healing Homestead with Atz Kilcher before performance a week later.
The Operation Encore website describes the organization’s primary goals as providing “opportunities and talent development for selected artists aspiring to take their music to a professional level.”
“Second, we provide a unique service to the public, helping to bridge the gap between reality and public perception of veterans through the powerful medium of original music.”
The Solstice Festival will also include a deckhand skills tournament.