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Thread: Mushy/Milky/Chalky Halibut

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    Member BRWHUNTER's Avatar
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    Default Mushy/Milky/Chalky Halibut

    Has anyone on the Kenai Peninsula been seeing a high prevalence of mushy halibut, similar to last year? During early 2012 our catch was >60% mushy. Towards the end of the season <30% were mushy.


    If anyone would like the '05 or '11 Report of Laboratory Examinations regarding mushy halibut email me and I will attach them. I was sent the reports along with a digital pamphlet on Mushy Halibut Syndrome last June by Northern Kenai Peninsula Area Biologist Robert Begich.

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    Greater than 60% mushy? Did they just get tossed?

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    So, what do you mean by, "Early," and "Towards the End,"
    it's a pretty long season

    Usually as a Commercial Catcher,...where they watch this ridiculously close,...it's August, that is the highest prevalence of potentially Chalky halibut
    Which, by the way, is still completely marketable,...they just knock us a few cents lower, because as I hear it, they tell us they can only use it for deep fried fish markets,...not the filet at the Fine Dining end of things
    (Which I wonder about honestly,...cause they only chop the price a little)

    I would suggest you try some, in various forms of cooking, before spreading the idea of a "Mushy Fish,"
    which will have guys tossing that overboard, just due to the thoughts of a Mushy Meal

    and they won't toss it before the fish is dead I imagine,....right ?

    PS: I do realize Mr. Begich used that term before you did,....but we've been dealing with this for many years,...like over ten,...
    it's just fairly recently that it seems to be causing a bit of a freak out,...on the recreational side of the industry
    and a Bio., looking for a hot topic
    Ten Hours in that little raft off the AK peninsula, blowin' NW 60, in November.... "the Power of Life and Death is in the Tongue," and Yes, God is Good !

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    Quote Originally Posted by BRWHUNTER View Post
    Has anyone on the Kenai Peninsula been seeing a high prevalence of mushy halibut, similar to last year? During early 2012 our catch was >60% mushy. Towards the end of the season <30% were mushy.


    If anyone would like the '05 or '11 Report of Laboratory Examinations regarding mushy halibut email me and I will attach them. I was sent the reports along with a digital pamphlet on Mushy Halibut Syndrome last June by Northern Kenai Peninsula Area Biologist Robert Begich.
    Of the fish we've seen so far,the've all been very healthy. Cod numbers are down so, maybe not as much competition for forage. Hopefully the chalk trend has changed.

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    Member BRWHUNTER's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 270ti View Post
    Greater than 60% mushy? Did they just get tossed?
    these were mainly shore caught halibut and my fishing partner and I had gotten pretty good at telling whether or not the halibut would be mushy or not, without opening them up, and releasing them at the beach. Obviously we could have been throwing back healthy halibut which would pad the numbers but i do not think so. The mushy halibut seemed to fight less and have visually less girth to length (plus omany other signs and im sure there are dozens more we didnt catch on to). There were also no mushy halibut greater than or equal to 38in in length. The first few we did eat as fried and chowder and were not impressed.

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    I just tabulated last year's take and my boat saw at least 40 halibut taken in the Juneau, Lynn Canal and Icy Strait areas. I had NO off putting meat from these fish, ranged in size from 5-80 lbs. Some of those less than 10 pounds have extremely moist meat (makes the frier roar when you drop them in) but no mush or chalk. I don't know what the occurrence by area is of what you are speaking, but I've not bumped into it in SE as of yet.

    I do however have an 80% bitter crab rate going since Jan. of this year.....that definitely sucks, and there's no polishing those turds.

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    Member BRWHUNTER's Avatar
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    Kodiakrain. I should have clarified that i meant summertime, early as in May/June, late July/August. These percentages come from 3the 2012 summer sport caught season fishing out of kenai, kasilof, whiskey gulch, and deep creek shore fishing. We ended the summer with 32 halibut brought to shore from 5 to 28 lbs, many of which were mushy. Just looking for info on what to expect this coming summer. O and we did eat them and no matter ow long you cook them the maintain a gelatinous texture and raw flavor. Not the best... Not the worst i guess either. I talked to Begich once while fishing after asking him if he knew why some of my halibut were jelly-like and he told me it was possibly a selenium and vitamin E deficiency which caused a myopathy of the halibut flesh.

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    Member Frostbitten's Avatar
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    Could you clarify the numbers a bit? You caught 32 fish for the season (which is quite impressive!), how many were early season vs late season?

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    Member BRWHUNTER's Avatar
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    Maybe I can add some more to this thread to clear up some questions anyone may have. The majority of the mushy fish caught were during hooligan runs by the mouth or the Kenai. The healthy halibut had stomachs with 1 to 5 hooligan while none of the kept mushy halibut (about half a dozen) had anything in their stomachs. Out in K-Bay 1 in 6 halibut we caught were mushy and if we hit a pocket with more mushy halibut we would move to a different area. The problem with surf casting was that no matter where we moved there was still a high prevalence of mushy halibut syndrome. This could be because shallow shore hugging halibut are generally younger and more prone to a diet which exacerbates the problem. What does everyone think?

    and I apologize if it seems like I am trying to be a fear monger, I am not, I simply aim to be well informed. I do not advocate for annoying a charter captain by releasing halibut you believe to be mushy when the captain says otherwise. And because there is nothing wrong with the mushy halibut beyond personal preferences regarding flavor you, like KodiakRain states, will need to cook some up for yourself and keep trying different recipes. I too will be trying new recipes this year with any mushy halibut I keep.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frostbitten View Post
    Could you clarify the numbers a bit? You caught 32 fish for the season (which is quite impressive!), how many were early season vs late season?
    Thank you, we had a blast. 2011 was almost a bust with 0 halibut caught till late July when I pulled a 55 lb'er off an island. Wow what a fighter. 2011 was a learning experience and in 2012 we changed almost everything and became reliably successful. We had a 21 day stretch where my partner and I did not get skunked. Our best day was 5 between the two of us (no we didn't keep all 5, or keep fishing after keeping a limit). Most fish were early season as dip netting interferes with our fishing spot. Most we're caught around kenai though a few we're from kasilof. Whiskey gulch and deep creek were not producers for us last year. For this reason 80% of our catch was predipnetting. Post dip netting when the red heads where plentiful the spiny dogfish came out in droves. One day the two of us caught dogfish. We actually kept two dogfish last year and they fried up beautifully (lemon squeezed on the fish after cooking made ALL the difference in the world.

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    Member redleader's Avatar
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    Out of a hundred or so I saw some that were mushy but lots of chalky, there are a lot of previous threads on this subject and I try to avoid the thinner small ones with gray edges and full of sea lice but they still cook up better then the large 100+lbers in my opinion.

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    Member cod's Avatar
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    I believe I was at 13 shore caught halibut in the deep creek area from late march to second week of June. Didn't get an exact count on mushies but would guess it at 6.
    Might have to get together for a beach trip with you , brwhunter.
    Your sarcasm is way, waaaayyyyyyyy more sarcastic than mine!

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    Quote Originally Posted by cod View Post
    I believe I was at 13 shore caught halibut in the deep creek area from late march to second week of June. Didn't get an exact count on mushies but would guess it at 6.
    Might have to get together for a beach trip with you , brwhunter.
    I would enjoy that Cod. If you send me an email we can see if our schedules coincide. Brwhunter1@gmail.com

    PS, looks like I can receive and send PM's now.

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    "Chalky" and "Mushy" halibut are two completely separate conditions (in my opinion anyhow). Chalk has been around a long time and (as Kodiakrain indicated) seems to have a greater prevalence in August. Chalky fish (IMHO) are fine to eat, although they are not as good quality wise as a fat green halibut, they will still cook up good in any meal. Just because you catch a fish that has flesh which is not translucent or clear does not mean it is a "mushy fish" and doesn't mean you should toss it. You can easily tell a chalky fish by its opaque or white flesh which is still solid and firm to the touch.

    "Mushy fish" however are a whole nuther matter... The flesh of these fish is also somewhat opaque but not as much as a "chalky fish". Also, the flesh as noted has a "mushy" or jelly like consistency and does not have the firm texture which regular healthy halibut should have.
    In my experience this condition usually exists in fish under #25 and figuring out which one have it fairly simple/easy.

    #1. Stray away from skinny/unhealthy looking fish. On a healthy halibut there should be a pronounced dimple where the lateral line runs down the fish. That is, the top of the fish should look like an "m" with the lateral line runnin down the middle of the m. In other words the muscles of a healthy fish will be filled out and make a bulge on either side of the lateral line.

    #2. Stray away from fish which have a "gray" look to them. If the underside (white) is covered in gray and not mostly or completely white. There's a chance you got a mushy fish.

    #3. Stray away from fish which are covered in halibut lice. Note: Larger fish will also have these lice which is completely normal. But if any fish under #40 seems to have an abnormal amount of halibut lice on its head. It's a sign that it's unhealthy and could be mushy. Be wary of keeping this fish.

    #4. Stray away from halibut which have "Big" looking heads. Any fish which seems to have a head disproportionate to it's body size (larger than normal) is another good sign of a mushy fish.

    Finally, when ya catch a fish that has more than one of these symptoms, it's a good bet that he's a mushy one and will be No Bueno on the table. Thus, it's best to "shake" that fish and try for a different one. With halibut stocks the way they are there is no sense in killing a fish that is inedible. Also, hopefully this info helps clarify the chalky/mushy halibut confusion and prevents people from tossing halibut which are still fine to eat (chalky Fish) or keeping /killing unpalatable mushy halibut.


    Thanks,
    Luke

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    Member cod's Avatar
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    Good info, Luke. Thanks. I only rarely get a chalky. Way more mushies than chalkies. I eat em all. Pretty messy in the pan when u cook em up but they still eat. This yr I hope to pay closer attention to the clues. Guess I should start a log this year and keep track of this stuff. I do know they all have empty stomachs.
    Your sarcasm is way, waaaayyyyyyyy more sarcastic than mine!

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    Member kodiakrain's Avatar
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    Good Post LGraham,....
    that's pretty informative,...
    reading that I'm realizing I may have never seen what some are catching
    and deeming "Mushy Halibut"

    and your identifying characteristics are really valuable
    Ten Hours in that little raft off the AK peninsula, blowin' NW 60, in November.... "the Power of Life and Death is in the Tongue," and Yes, God is Good !

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    Funny over in Seward, on my boat we landed about 2200 halibut the only ones that were "Mushy" were caught very deep. About 6 or 8 of them for the season.

    Chalky is a different story, it seems like when we fished where there was a high population of chickens, we would see more chalky fish. Sometimes you can't tell a chalky fish right away.

    The big head, bug eye ones are mushy and we do not keep those if possible. They are not nearly as common in Seward as they are in Deep Creek.

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    Member BRWHUNTER's Avatar
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    Does anyone know if mushy halibut syndrome is a degenerative disease that ends up killing or crippling the small halibut for life or do they grow out of it. I seems like other folks are also not seeing mushy halibut in the 25lb and up range. I wonder what's going on? Could it stem from seasonal young halibut diets? Another post seemed to believe it was from a diet of cod which blocked vitamin E but I have never heard that before and I have been told a couple of times it is from a crab diet lacking selenium or vitamin E or both (I do see a lot of small crab in the stomachs of shore caught fish).

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