Officials for the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament (HIBT) announced Friday that the tournament, one of the oldest big game sport fishing events in the world, will not take place this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will return to the Big Island in 2021.
The 61st annual edition of the five-day tournament — a summer staple for the Kona Coast as it hosts fishermen from Hawaii and around the world — was scheduled to begin Aug. 8.
HIBT tournament director Roberta Fithian said the decision to not hold the tournament this year was based on the officials’ concern for the overall health of the participants, tournament workers and the Big Island community.
“We thought it would be best to be safe and to postpone the tournament because other big events are being postponed and the thought of exposing our people at this time when things are so bad, it’s just not something we want to do,” Fithian said. “We want people to be safe. The tournament isn’t worth it if even just one person gets sick.”
Fithian said the start date for the 2021 tournament has not been set yet.
“We just hope we can pick up where we left off and get the teams to come back,” Fithian said.
Fithian said the HIBT holds an important place in the hearts of the many longtime participants of the tournament.
“Some of these people who compete have come to this tournament since they were children, and so we’re looking forward to continuing the tournament next year and the year after,” Fithian said.
The HIBT, which held its inaugural tournament in 1959, has joined a growing list of Big Island sports events held annually in the spring and summer being canceled or postponed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other events that would have had national and international pull for the island include the Lavaman Waikoloa Triathlon, which was canceled in March; the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii race, which has been postponed to Aug. 15; and the International Va’a Federation World Sprint Championships to be held in Hilo, which were also canceled last month.
This year will be the first since 1999 that the tournament has not been held.
In last year’s tournament, 41 teams from around the world, including Africa, Australia, Fiji, Japan, New Zealand and the United States, all gathered in the waters off the Kona Coast to participate. The father-son team Martin and Mitchell Firestein led the Laguna Niguel Billfish Club from California to win the tournament for a record fourth time.
“Our concerns remain focused on the health and well-being of all involved in our fishing tournament including our volunteers, anglers from around the world, Kona’s finest captains and crews and our tournament officials and team members,” HIBT founder Peter Fithian said in a press release. “We will be back next summer, ready to welcome all of our old and new friends from around the world to fish Kona’s now famous waters.”