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Fish Factor

Halibut prices start out higher than ever before

By Laine Welch


June 09, 2007

It used to be that Alaska halibut prices would plummet when summer salmon fisheries got underway - but that's not the case anymore.

When the season opened in early March, halibut prices started out higher than ever before, well over $5 a pound in major ports. They're down a bit now, but not by much, and still about 70-cents a pound higher across the board than at the same time last year.

Halibut prices are traditionally broken out by three weight classes. At Kodiak, prices to fishermen were holding fairly steady at $3.80 a pound for fish weighing 10 to 20 pounds, $4.10 for 20 to 40 pounders and $4.35 for '40 ups.'

At Homer, prices were ranging from $4.25-$4.90 per pound and low landings were resulting in "aggressive buying."

At Dutch Harbor, prices were being paid on a trip by trip basis but were said to be "much higher" than at the same time last year, meaning in the $3.50 and above range.

In Southeast Alaska, halibut prices had bumped up a dime from the start of the season to $3.80 - $4.20 and $4.40 a pound.

"Fresh halibut seems unstoppable in terms of demand, no matter what the price at either retail or food service," said market analyst Ken Talley. "There is little if any downward trend in halibut prices at the wholesale level. Demand remains quite strong, especially for fresh fish, which is having an impact on frozen inventory."

Talley said the demand for frozen halibut has boosted wholesale prices since the March opening from $5.35 a pound (for 40-60s) to $5.65 and above.

Lower landings is one factor that is keeping prices high, and deliveries could lag further as many fishermen shift to salmon. salmon. Complicating the supply picture, Talley said, is the import situation. The weakened dollar makes it less attractive to send imports, including halibut, to the U.S.

"Importers have been losing out to buyers from Europe, where halibut is a popular item. U.S. buyers simply can't pay enough for the imported product to make it as worthwhile for overseas suppliers as it has been. Norwegian buyers, for example, are often outbidding U.S. importers for frozen halibut from Russia. This inability to get all the halibut needed is another factor in higher prices," he said.

Eighteen million pounds (36%) of Alaska' 52 million pound halibut catch limit was taken by June 8. Kodiak was the leading port for landings, getting nearly 19 percent of all deliveries. That's followed by Seward, Homer, Sitka and Petersburg.

Halibut now ranks as Alaska's third most valuable fishery, last year worth a record $193 million to longliners lucky enough to hold quota shares of the prized fish. The average Alaska halibut price last year was $3.71/lb. The fishery ends in mid-November.

Sitka says hello to Silver Bay

A major new seafood company plans to be open for business this summer at Sitka. Silver Bay Seafoods is under construction at the site of the former Alaska Pulp Mill, east of downtown.

"We are building a seafood processing plant from the ground up with the hopes of being done and ready in time for the June 17 fishery," said assistant plant manager Brian Gannon, calling it "a massive super-structure."

Silver Bay plans to be a big player in the northern reaches of the Panhandle, according to Gannon. "Our goal is to buy and process 20-35 million pounds of salmon this year," he said. "We are here to provide another outlet for the fishermen."

Silver Bay Seafoods is operated by Stikine Holdings and bankrolled primarily nearly $5 million in cash by about 30 fishermen "looking to try something different." Last week the venture got a big boost from the state with a $1.2 million loan from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. The City and Borough of Sitka also provided a $900,000 loan, for a total project cost of $7.3 million.

Silver Bay Seafoods expects to employ about 175 people at the height of salmon season. After some fine tuning, the company plans to expand into other fisheries.

"We would rather do one thing really well right now instead of doing 13 things marginally," Gannon said. "We'd like to have a home run on salmon first."

Salmon saint

As salmon season enters full swing, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the patron saint of salmon - Saint Kentigern of Scotland.

Born in 518, Kentigern (commonly called Mungo) was the illegitimate son of a king's daughter. He trained as a priest at a monastery, where his saint-hood evolved around a dangerous love-triangle.

Legend has it that the king suspected his wife of having an affair, because she had given one of her favorite rings to a court favorite. The king took the ring when the man was sleeping and threw it far out into the River Clyde. When he returned home, the king angrily demanded that his wife show him the missing ring and threatened her with death if she could not produce it.

In her misery, the queen beseeched the priest Kentigern to help her. Kentigern took a fishing rod to the spot where the ring had been flung into the river. He quickly caught a salmon and cut it open. Amazingly, the ring was found in the salmon's belly. The queen was able to deliver the ring to her doubting husband and peace was restored.

From the time of his death in 603, Kentigern was regarded as Scotland's patron saint and the cathedral at Glasgow was built in his honor. To this day Kentigern's figure and symbols, including a salmon, make up Glasgow's coat of arms.

Who knows? Perhaps a quick prayer to the patron saint will lead more fish to your nets.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. 2007 marks the 16th year that she has been writing this weekly fisheries column. It now appears in nearly 20 newspapers and web outlets.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

This article is protected by copyright and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission. Contact msfish[AT]
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