KODIAK — The state of Alaska is asking halibut fishermen to keep watch for a new disorder affecting their prize catch.

It’s called mushy halibut syndrome, and it turns tasty halibut meat into an unappetizing, opaque mess that often isn’t detectable until a fisherman cuts the fish open.

According to state fish pathologists who are studying the disorder, mushy halibut syndrome has been found most frequently in Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay, but inadequate evidence means it might be found near Kodiak as well.

“Cook Inlet is sort of clued into it because they’ve seen it on charter boats,” state fish pathologist Ted Meyers said.

“I think I heard someone say they saw it on Kodiak Island,” pathologist Jayde Ferguson said, “but there was no evidence. It’s tough to go off hearsay.”

Ferguson, from the state’s laboratory in Anchorage, is investigating several cases of the disorder.

Mushy halibut reports tend to cluster, with peaks in 1998, 2005 and again this year, when three cases involving eight fish have been reported.

No one knows how common it is, mainly because fishermen usually don’t report the problem. It’s typically found in fish smaller than 25 pounds, but the lack of reporting means it could be widespread.

“We’ve had a lot of anecdotal reports that it’s more common in younger fish and smaller ones, but that’s just hearsay,” Ferguson said.

The cause also remains a mystery.

“Right now the thought is that it is some kind of mineral deficiency,” Ferguson said.

Mushy halibut is distinct from chalky halibut, which it resembles.

“Chalky halibut is basically the flesh is more opaque, and that’s due to lactic acid buildup under high-stress events like when you fight it on the line for a while … It doesn’t affect the quality at all. The texture is fine,” Ferguson said.

With mushy halibut, the flesh is opaque and jelly-like, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game fish disease handbook.

Ferguson is asking fishermen who believe they have a case of mushy halibut to contact him in Anchorage at 267-2394 or by email at jayde.ferguson@alaska.gov. Suspect fillets should be refrigerated, not frozen.

“Unless we have a case on file from Kodiak,” Ferguson said, “we … don’t know if it’s in the area.”

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiak

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