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ANCHORAGE - The 364-pound halibut that brought pride to Valdez - and the promise of a $15,000 prize for hometown angler George Lavasseur - was disqualified from the Valdez Halibut Derby on Saturday, one day before the end of the summer-long derby.
After receiving two written protests, the derby committee interviewed Lavasseur and determined he broke derby rules when others helped him reel in the 7-foot, 7-inch fish.
Now a much smaller fish - the 277.2-pounder caught by Glenallen's Loren Bell, who was in second place until the disqualification - will claim the derby title.
But Lavasseur isn't getting skunked. Derby officials are still ecstatic about his catch, which is the biggest halibut ever brought to the Port of Valdez and would have been the second-biggest winner in any of Southcentral Alaska's derbies, including the more famous Homer Halibut Jackpot Derby. Only the 376-pounder that won the 1996 Homer derby would have surpassed it.
And so Lavasseur is getting a consolation prize of sorts - a check for $10,000, which is being presented in recognition of his Aug. 6 monster catch and his honesty, derby chairman Joe Prax said.
"Rule No. 9 says you can't have assistance in landing the fish," Prax said. "George fully admitted (it). In his words, he handled the rod about 90 percent of the time. It was a tough fish to land, and he said it physically was not possible for him to do it by himself."
Rule No. 9 says: "Each contestant must hook, play and bring fish to the side of the boat or edge of the shore and only then may aid be received."
"It's pretty black-and-white," Prax said. "If you're going to have rules, you have to follow them."
In an interview with the Daily News after he made his catch, Lavasseur, 58, who has lived in Valdez for 36 years, said he worked for more than an hour reeling it in. Exhausted, he eventually tried a technique he learned while fishing for tuna, and used the rail of the boat as a fulcrum and then took turns with three shipmates to apply pressure and gain line.
"The four of us, we worked our butts off," he said at the time.
Prax said by awarding Lavasseur $10,000, the derby can honor a fish that brought glory and good press to the Prince William Sound fishing town, whose halibut and salmon derbies aren't as well-known as those in Homer and Seward.
"There is a rivalry, absolutely," he said. "The purpose of the derby is to promote fishing in Valdez. I know our average catch is always right there with Homer's. (But) they've got that reputation, and good for them - but ours is not far off that."
Reached at his home Saturday, Lavasseur seemed cheerful enough. "It's not a problem," he said.
At least he won't have a tense morning waiting for the derby to end today at noon, the way he would have if he was still the leader. He's getting $10,000 even if someone else lands a bigger flatfish in the derby's final hours.
And he still has lots of halibut to enjoy over the winter.
"It's in my freezer and several other people's freezers too," Lavasseur said.