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Southeast Alaska halibut catch may have broken world record

Here Alaska goes again with a halibut that might be, could be, would be a world record catch but for want of a big enough scale. Maybe.

As the story goes this time, Kansas hardware store owner Kent Carmichael caught a 94-inch halibut on rod and reel while fishing out of the Southeast Alaska town of Pelican on June 28. The guides with whom Carmichael was fishing estimated the weight of the fish at 466 pounds -- seven pounds greater than the state and world record of 459 pounds -- using a scale that calculates halibut weight based on length. 

Only one small problem: No one had access to a scale big enough to confirm that weight. Which sort of puts Carmichael in the same boat as Dale Gin of Granada Hills, Calif. Gin was fishing out of Gustavus, a small community just north of Pelican, when he caught a 94-inch halibut last year. It was the same story. Estimated weight: 466 pounds. Actual weight: Unknown. 

Truth be told, too, Gin and Carmichael might have been fishing in much the same waters when they caught these monstrous fish. This is because Carmichael was either fishing well north of Pelican, or else is about to find himself in serious hot water.

In order to legally keep a 94-inch halibut this year, he would need to be fishing not in Southeast Alaska but in the Gulf of Alaska, or what the International Pacific Halibut Commission classifies as area 3A. Commercial fishing interests in the North Pacific this year imposed a regulation on charter sport fisheries, limiting them to halibut 37 inches or smaller in Southeast Alaska. The cutoff line for Southeast Alaska, area IPHC Area 2C, and the Gulf of Alaska, IPHC Area 3A, however, is just north of Pelican and just west of Gustavus.

IPHC regulations define the 2C-3A boundary as a "line running 340 degrees true from Cape Spencer Light." Cape Spencer Light marks the northern entrance to the Inside Passage on the Gulf edge of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. 

Hopefully, Carmichael was fishing in this area when he caught the halibut. Otherwise, he could be facing a much bigger problem than the lack of a scale. 

The boundary line for 2C-3A is within about 30 miles of either Gustavus or Pelican. That's a long run to go fishing, but it might be worth it to lodges that charge premium rates for world class fishing. The halibut limit in Area 2C is one fish under 37 inches. The limit in 3A is two fish of any size. Carmichael was staying at the Highliner Lodge, where the rates starts at $3,400 per person for three days of fishing and four nights of lodging. 

How long this lodge and those in the Gustavas area will have access to the big fish remains unclear. The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council -- the commercial fishing-dominated regulatory body that runs the halibut show -- is talking about restricting all Alaska charter anglers to one fish, and possibly only one fish under 37 inches. The fear that this could happen is serious enough that the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby is considering how to do its fishing contest fundraising without a competition for the biggest fish caught in the Homer area each year. 

The big halibut days for anglers in much of Alaska -- or at least for charter anglers -- might be just about over. In the meantime, though, it appears Highliners and the Alaska Anglers Inn, with whom Gin was fishing last year, have found a corner of Alaska with some monster flatfish. All of which would seem to indicate that someone should invest in a bigger scale.

Still, the Pelican-Gustavus area isn't the only place the scale problem has arisen in the past. Kathleen McCann, a then 70-year-old resident of the Kenai Peninsula, caught another of these 94-inch halibut in Cook Inlet off Ninilchik in 1997. It, too, was estimated to weigh 466 pounds, but no one could find a scale big enough to weigh it. 

No one knows for sure how accurate that inch-to-pound conversion charter, either, given that there haven't been a lot of 94-inch halibut weighed over the years. The largest halibut ever weighed in Alaska came in at 495 pounds. It was caught near Petersburg in Southeast, and its length appears to be unknown. 

The longest halibut ever caught off Alaska appears to be a fish of 98 inches -- a whopping 8 feet, 2 inches. Ir qA caught in a commercial fishery in the Bering Sea in 2003. It was never weighed, but estimated to weight of 533 pounds based on what exactly is not clear. 

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com