SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Halibut season gets underway; Dock prices devalue salmon fishery, Pink salmon medevacs & more...
By Laine Welch


March 09, 2008

Alaska halibut fishermen are likely to fetch high prices again as the season gets underway on March 8.

Longliners holding quota shares of the prized flatfish will haul in about 50 million pounds during the eight month season, a drop of two million pounds from last year.

Whether or not the start up prices will mimic last year's blow outs of well over $5 a pound in major ports remains to be seen, but it's a given they will be high.

"Solid prices generally aren't locked in until fishing deliveries are made. Prices will be good to start, but I would expect a rather steep backslide to the market by mid week," said a major Kodiak processor.

He added there is some reluctance by major buyers who "got stung fairly badly" on the high opening prices last year, when the halibut cost more than the market would absorb. There also is some inventory of frozen halibut in the nation's freezers.

"Buyers will scramble to get the fish they need and it will be expensive," predicted market watcher Ken Talley of Seafood Trend newsletter.

Halibut prices seldom dipped below $4/lb at major ports last year during the entire fishery, which ends in mid-November. In fact, $4 was the average halibut price paid last year to Alaska fishermen, up from $3.71 in 2006, according to Troie Zuniga who tracks the stats for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.

The first month of the halibut season is usually the second lowest for landings, following November, Talley said. May, June and August were the top three months last year for halibut landings.

Most of the fish crossed the docks in Homer, which got 20 percent of all halibut deliveries last year. Kodiak placed second at 17 percent, followed by Seward, Sitka, Dutch Harbor and Juneau. Most of America's halibut by far comes from Alaska, with small amounts coming into the U.S. from British Columbia and China.

Dock prices devalue salmon fishery

When people talk about the value of Alaska's salmon fishery, they always base it on the "ex-vessel" value, meaning the prices paid to fishermen. But that "common discourse" chronically undervalues the salmon fishery," said market analyst Chris McDowell of the Juneau-based McDowell Group.

"That ex-vessel value only represents 40 percent of the total value of the salmon industry," he said. "It's the first wholesale price that presents the full picture."

First wholesale is defined as "the price when a processor sells a product outside of their affiliate network," McDowell explained, and includes the full spectrum of economic activity that occurs in Alaska from the salmon industry.

"Forty percent goes to the harvesters, some goes to processors' profits and all the rest is spent on the goods and services that are required to get the catch from a live fish to a food product," McDowell said.

For example, the value of the 2007 salmon catch is pegged at $370 million, but the first wholesale value pushes it closer to $900 million.

The state Dept. of Revenue has just published its Alaska Salmon Price Report (ASPR) for 2007 which outlines sales volumes and values for six major products: canned salmon, frozen and fresh headed and gutted, frozen and fresh fillets and salmon roe. The ASPR includes data from Alaska processors which handle more than one million pounds of salmon each season.

At a glance, McDowell said some interesting trends show "big bumps" in sales of fresh salmon (37 million pounds), of which 19.3 million was sockeye. There also is heightened interest in Alaska salmon roe, especially from Europe.

The ASPR is at the Dept. of Revenue web site

Hand carrying humpies

Pink salmon medevacs are being planned this spring at British Columbia's Broughton Archipelago. The goal is to get migrating baby pinks past swarms of sea lice from the region's 20 fish farms, and release them safely to sea 40 miles away.

Scientists for years have been warning that the explosions of sea lice from B.C. fish farms are wiping out wild stocks of pink salmon. The Broughton run produces one third of British Columbia's wild pink population. Alexandra Morton, a marine biologist with the Raincoast Research Society, calls it a "fatal collision."

"These industrial scale farms crowd salmon into a feed lot type environment. So by spring, each farm can be releasing a billion larval lice per generation," she said.

Just one or two sea lice can be lethal to pink salmon fingerlings (called fry) because they don't yet have protective scales. According to mathematical ecologist Mark Lewis, the wild salmon wipe out is happening fast.

"If the infestations continue, the average total time to a 99 percent population collapse is four generations, or eight years. Because we are already two generations into the decline, this leaves two further generations, or four years till local extinction of the salmon," he said.

Frustrated with a lack of action by the B.C. government and fish growers, Morton, along with ecotourism operators and First Nation tribes are planning a rescue mission called the "Adopt a Small Fry" campaign. The activists will catch hundreds of thousands of young salmon in beach seines, transfer them in buckets to holding tanks on fishing boats, and ship them safely past the swarms of sea lice to the sea.

Find out more about the salmon medevacs at

Where to spend research dollars?

Alaska Sea Grant wants input on prioritizing research projects for Aleutian Islands marine resources and the communities that depend on them. Answering a survey will qualify for a $200 shopping spree at the Sea Grant store. Deadline is March 31.

Find the survey at

ComFish delivers

For 29 years the ComFish Alaska trade show has lured hundreds of visitors to Kodiak to share goods, services and information. Topping the list this year: Q&A with ADF&G Commissioner and Kodiak 'home boy' Denby Lloyd; U.S. House candidates fisheries debate; Exxon court case update; halibut catch limits; oil & gas development and fisheries; Pebble Mine; counting crews, Sea Pharmacy and a marine variety show!

ComFish is March 20-22 at Kodiak High School.

Kodiak-based Laine Welch has been reporting news of Alaska's seafood industry for print and radio for 20 years. Fish Factor appears in 15 newspapers and websites. Laine's Fish Radio programs air daily on more than 25 stations across Alaska.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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Ketchikan, Alaska

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