Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament to make decision before May 1

  • Malibu Marlin Club - Topanga Beach pose with their 652.1-pound during the 2018 Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament. (J.R. De Groote/West Hawaii Today file)

In today’s age of uncertainty surrounding public events due to COVID-19, simply keeping competitors and spectators in the loop can be considered a win for an organization.

The Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament said it’ll be making a decision regarding the status of the 2020 tournament prior to May 1.

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First held in 1959, the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament has evolved into one of the world’s foremost big game fishing tournaments, hosting competitors from every corner of the globe.

Though tournament officials still hope the 61st annual tournament will run as planned Aug. 8 – the scheduled start date – rolls around, they’ve acknowledged the unpredictability surrounding all events in Hawaii following Gov. David Ige’s stay-at-home order and mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors makes it difficult for their decisionmakers at this time.

Tournament director Roberta Fithian said she anticipates an announcement to be made by mid-April, but not later than May 1.

“It’s a hard decision; we’ve never had to do this before…” Fithian said. “If they restrict airline flights, how can you have a tournament? Most come from away — Australia, the mainland, Africa… We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen. Right now, people are restricted; how long is it going to be restricted for?”

Teams from around the world now wait for an announcement to come from HIBT officials in the next couple of weeks. If too many teams are unable to make the trip to Hawaii, Fithian fears this will be the first time in 61 years the tournament isn’t held.

“This is a nonprofit organization. If we only have so many teams, we’ll not be able to run it…” Fithian added. “We’ll have to fund it ourselves; with our businesses all closed, that’s going to be impossible.”

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Fithian noted anglers from around the world – like last year’s champion Laguna Niguel Billfish Club from California – are still holding out hope the tournament will be a go, but maintains the safety of everyone involved is her primary concern.

“There are people that still want to come. These are healthy people, die-hard fishermen,” Fithian said. “But if things are bad, I’m not going to risk everybody’s health and lives to run this tournament.”

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