SOUTHWEST HARBOR — With a May 1 to June 30 season, Atlantic halibut can be a boon to lobstermen before the summer lobster season gets busy. Some are multitasking, checking their halibut trawls in between trips to get their lobster traps in the water.
Home and restaurant cooks like the fish for its firm texture; the flesh doesn’t fall apart the way it does with haddock or other common groundfish.
Fishermen have been getting $7-9 per pound for a whole fish with the head on, which can easily reach 50 pounds. Some sell halibut to their local lobster pier; others go directly to restaurants or retail stores.
Halibut trawls have hooks on them, which must be circle hooks of a certain size. “We set out a trawl with about 80 hooks on it,” said Holly Masterson, sternman on Mike Carroll’s F/V Molly Hock, of a late May day when they caught a 49-pound, 50-inch halibut.
“We set out a load of (lobster) traps, then the trawl. Then we went back to the dock for another load of traps, set them, then went and hauled back on the trawl, and this guy was there. We caught him in about 3 1/2 hours.”
Fishermen must send a monthly log with information from every trip to the DMR landings program. They’re allowed to fish for lobster on the same trips, because lobster is not a “marine species” under federal rules. The captain must estimate how much of each trip was spent traveling and hauling halibut trawls.
Lobstermen fishing for halibut must apply for a special endorsement on their commercial lobster license issued by the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). In the past, the DMR has required a training course to teach fishermen about the regulations involved for the species. Now the department sends a compliance guide to new license holders outlining the requirements instead.
Fishermen who hold a federal groundfish permit are limited to one halibut per trip, regardless of whether they are fishing in state or federal waters. Commercial fishermen with the DMR endorsement but no federal permit are not limited to one per trip. Both groups may land a maximum of 25 Atlantic halibut per year. The fish must be tagged with a marker from the DMR attached around or through the tail, until it reaches its final destination.
The fish must be at least 41 inches long with the head on, or 32 inches with the head off. Filleting the fish at sea is prohibited by state regulations, according to the DMR, because the Marine Patrol must be able to determine compliance with minimum size rules.
Once back at the dock, fish can be cleaned on the boat. There’s not much to the cleaning, according to Masterson. “Halibut are all meat!” she said.