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Fish Factor

Alaska salmon price and permit values ticking upwards
By Laine Welch


November 05, 2007
Monday AM

Alaska salmon permit values are ticking upwards, along with the price of fish.

The trend is especially notable at Bristol Bay, home to the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery. The Bay accounts for one third of Alaska's total salmon earnings, and holds the most salmon permits at more than 2,800 fishermen.

"There's been a gradual improvement over the past two or three years. It indicates that things are looking more positive all the time," said broker Mike Painter at Permit Master.

"People had a decent season and expectations of a higher sockeye price (62 cents). When that didn't happen, interest in permits kind of died off and dropped as low as $85,000. If an anticipated final sockeye price of 80 cents holds true, (up from 66 cents last year) Painter predicts it will push up permit prices.

"If there is an adjustment paid, that could push permit prices closer to $90,000," he said.

Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg agrees there's an upswing in Bristol Bay.

"At the end of the season we sold three in a row - bam-bam-bam! - at $87,000. Now people are relisting at $90,000 and $100,000 and speculating that's where it is going to be," Olsen said.

It's a far cry from the hey days of the 1980s when Bristol Bay drift permits fetched highs of $275,000. The all time low was $16,000 just a few years ago. Painter said prices for Bristol Bay setnet permits have doubled over the past three years, from $12,000 to $25,000.

"It's not like it used to be and probably never will be, but it's getting better all the time. It's nice to see some health and optimism back in the industry again. It was pretty much gone five years ago," he said.

"Generally throughout the state, everything is up from two or three years ago and everyone is optimistic that the salmon industry is finally turned around," echoed Olsen.

Painter credits "improved quality and permit stacking" (being able to fish two permits on one boat) for helping to boost Bristol Bay permit values. He said buying interest is split "about 50/50" between the Lower 48 and resident Alaska fishermen.

Both brokers said there is renewed interest in Alaska roe herring permits. Roe on kelp pound permits in Southeast regions are especially in demand.

Shifting to quota shares: Prices approaching $5 a pound at the docks have boosted the value of halibut quota shares to unheard of levels - and brokers predict they'll continue to climb.

"It's been a very strong seller's market for a couple of years and very little quota is available. So the old supply and demand theory has kicked in and pushed up the price," said Olivia Olsen.

Halibut quota in prime areas of the Central Gulf was fetching $27 per pound, said Permit Master's Mike Painter, and he expects the price will go higher.

"Reasonably priced is not a term that's used anymore. The asking price for next year's quota is at $30 and even that doesn't look unrealistic," he said.

Olsen said quota shares are running between $18.50 to $26 per pound in Southeast Alaska. Southeast used to be the price leader, but uncertainties about the fishery have prices running about $2 below the Central Gulf.
"Southeast seems to have the greatest charter impact than any other areas, and there's a big cloud out there about what's going to happen and lots of speculation," Olsen said.

Halibut quota prices in the Western Gulf are listed at $14 - $22 per pound, and at $12 - $20 for Bering Sea waters along the Aleutian Islands.

The brokers said their also is strong demand and high prices for sablefish quota, with prices at $15-$16.50 for Southeast and slightly lower elsewhere in Alaska.

Crab quotas

Bering Sea crab is the newest entry into the quota share market. Similar to Alaska halibut and sablefish, catches of king and Tanner crab have been split among participants into shares based on their fishing histories.

But unlike transactions in halibut and sablefish fisheries, which involve thousands of participants, crab quotas involve far fewer players and transactions. That makes for a more tricky market, said Jeff Osborn at Dock Street Brokers.

"With crab, the transfers and sales are infrequent enough that it is hard to establish exactly what the market is," he explained.

Osborn said red king crab quota is priced between $28-$30 per pound (southern district). Opilio (snow crab) is a little tough to call because of next year's significant catch increase, "but it's in the $9-$10 per pound range," he said.

Quota for bairdi Tanner crab is priced closer to $12 per pound, and shares of golden king crab in the western region of the Bering Sea range from $7.50-$12 per pound.

Looking ahead, Osborn predicts the market for crab quota will continue to be tough to track.

Osborn said future catch limits, grounds prices and uncertain political developments will dictate the ups and downs in the Bering Sea crab quota market.

Wild salmon sperm spawns first bio-LEDs

Light emitting diodes (LED) are found everywhere -. they light up the numbers in digital clocks and in all kinds of gadgets and electronic equipment. Now, scientists have discovered that LEDs can be intensified by using biological materials ­ notably, salmon sperm.

Dr. Andrew Steckl is a leading expert in photonics, based at the University of Cincinnati. His research team, in collaboration with US Air Force scientists, has used DNA from salmon sperm to create a superior LED lighting device.

"The double helix of its DNA has some interesting properties in regard to light emission Because of the way it is shaped, you can insert light emitting molecules within it that operate more efficiently than in other host materials," Steckl said in a phone interview.

Salmon sperm is the first material ever used for bio-LEDs. Skeckl said it comes from a wild salmon fishery in Japan, where sperm is widely harvested for its DNA. It is refined into pure DNA fibers that Steckls's team turn into thin films of tightly controlled dimensions that produce light.

Steckl said the research is an example of a trend toward 'greener' electronics. Pointing to waste products generated from U.S. farming and fishing industries, he added: "The organic material is abundant and readily available - and it reduces the need for heavy metals and other hazardous materials," he said.

"This is not the sort of material that people have a lock on," Steckl added. "In other words, it's not a mine somewhere that produces a particular metal. People in the semi-conductor and flat panel display industries are quite concerned that certain specialty metals critical to device fabrication are going to begin to run out, as soon as 10 years from now.

Steckl believes the trend towards biomimetics, or mimicking nature, "is inevitable." He said he would be interested in in collaborating with Alaska's seafood industry for bio-materials.

When asked if there is a difference between DNA of wild and farmed salmon sperm, Dr. Stekcl said: "There might be some difference in the yield."

Find Dr. Andrew Stecklat the nano-lab at the University of Cincinnati. ( a.steckl[at] )



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