SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Less Pacific Halibut to Catch Next Year


December 05, 2011

As expected, there will be less Pacific halibut to catch next year for fishermen from California to Alaska. Fishery scientists are recommending a 2012 coast wide halibut catch of 33 million pounds, a 19 percent decrease from the 41 million pound catch limit for this year.  

Several reasons were given for the cuts - Pacific halibut stocks continue a decade long decline, there appears to be little recruitment of younger fish entering the fishery, the halibut are smaller than they should be at age – and scientists believe they have overestimated the halibut biomass for years.    

 Here are the recommended Alaska catch limits, in millions of pounds:


2011 Catch Limits

2012 Recommended

Percent of Change

2C Southeast




3A Central Gulf




3B Western Gulf




4A Aleutians




4B Aleutians




4CDE Bering Sea








Dr. Bruce Leaman, Director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission said it has been “one of the toughest years ever” for stock assessments. He also put industry on notice that more severe cuts are likely possibly as soon as 2013.

“It is worth pointing out to you the reality that using our assessment models the way we are, we are consistently overestimating biomass given the performance of the fishery,” Leaman said, speaking at a meeting last week in Seattle.

How low could the Pacific halibut fishery go?   One forecast model that weighs heavily on so called ‘retrospective’ catch data projected a decrease to just  15 million pounds.        

The IPHC will make final decisions on 2012 catch limits and other proposals at its January meeting in Anchorage.

Fishy Christmas poem

There have been many twists to the poem “The Night before Christmas” since Clement Moore penned it in 1823. None is quite like the latest which hails from Sitka as a tribute to commercial fishing.

In “The Bight…Before Christmas,” jolly old St. Nick arrives not in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, but by a skiff hauled by fish.

 “…And then in a twinkling I heard on the deck, the slapping of tail fins in one steady thwack! The scraping of metal, the screech of the latch, And there was St. Nicholas, in through the hatch.”

The fishy Christmas poem was first penned by Will Swagle as space filler for his bi-monthly newspaper, the Sitka Soup.

“The fishing industry here is so colorful, and at Christmas there are lighted boat parades and all kinds of things that inspired me to make the  poem personal to the commercial fishing industry in Alaska,” Swagle said in a phone interview.

As it grew more popular, he searched for several years for an illustrator to help turn the Bight into a book. The chemistry finally clicked two years ago with local artist Colin Herforth who created 18 original watercolors.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in wheelhouses and on deck and I felt I could lend some authenticity to his verbage – talking about the specifics of being on a fishing boat, the hoochies, and all the things Will makes mention of,” Herforth said. His drawings are “edgier,” he added, including a butt crack and bandaged face for St. Nick, as well as hidden meanings. 

Salmon summer sales sizzle

It’s been a good year for Alaska’s salmon industry with prices and sales continuing to tick upwards.

Alaska fishermen delivered just over 176 million salmon to processors this summer, 3 percent higher than 2010, although well below the forecast.  A breakdown by Seafood Trend’s Ken Tally shows that Alaska salmon fishermen and processors generated a whopping $1.14 billion in sales just this summer, up nearly 2% in a recessionary market.  

Another bump up - average dock prices to 76-cents a pound, nearly 3% higher than last year, and compared to 57-cents two years ago.                       

Some price highlights:  king salmon prices averaged out at $3.35/lb. this summer, down from $3.60 last year– except for Southeast trollers who got $3.80.   

Fresh cohos saw nice increases at wholesale this summer, with fillets fetching $6.58/lb, 31 cents higher than last year. 

More Alaska H&G (headed/gutted) sockeye also went to the more lucrative fresh fish market -- 18.5 million pounds, an increase of 7 million pounds from last summer. Likewise, sales of fresh sockeye salmon fillets doubled to 5 million pounds.

Talley calls chum salmon “the new pinks” and said many retailers find chums more appealing than sockeyes. Chum prices to fishermen increased a nickel this summer averaging 75-cents a pound.

Fresh pinks surged at wholesale this summer priced at $1.4/lb    compared to 89-cents last summer. Alaska pinks  showed a two cent price increase, averaging 43-cents at the docks. 

Salmon sales continue well beyond the summer and the  values are certain to increase when the 2011 pack is tallied early next year. 

Fish flop

The state Board of Fisheries is meeting Dec 2-7 in Valdez to address Prince William Sound, Upper Copper River and Susitna River fisheries, and not in Naknek as reported last week.




This year marks the 21st year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. My goal is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. 


Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]
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SitNews ©2011
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska


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