Written by Jen Finn
Gulf/South Atlantic Yellowfin Tuna
Southeast Asia drives global price as it rebounds from '09 recession low
Indicators remain mixed for yellowfin tuna in the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico, though market conditions have been improving generally since the recession bottomed out the ex-vessel price in 2009 and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill triggered a drop in demand.
North Carolina's 2011 production, at 538,654 pounds, was its strongest since 2007, according to preliminary N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries data. Official ex-vessel price data for 2011 aren't yet available.
North Carolina longline vessels had begun to harvest some yellowfin in mid-March, and recent dockside prices are encouraging.
Unlike the two previous winters, marked by bitter cold and blustery fishing weather well into March, the 2011-12 winter was very mild. Consequently, a significant amount of domestic yellowfin may be getting to market early in 2012.
"They're catching a few," says Matt Frost, manager at Homer Smith Seafood in Beaufort, N.C. "Price has been very good," up to $7.50 a pound for the top grades.
In Florida, ex-vessel price was up, but production was down a bit in 2011. The statewide ex-vessel price has been rising since 2009, with an average 2011 annual yellowfin ex-vessel price of $3.68 on 352,718 pounds landed, according to Fish and Wildlife Research Institute preliminary statistics.
Winter was mild in the Gulf of Mexico, too, and in Louisiana, effort in the tuna fishery continued to pick up, reports David Maginnis, vice president of Houma-based Jensen Tuna. Buster Niquet, in Panama City, Fla., confirmed yellowfin activity there, too.
"They're catching tuna," Niquet said in late March.
Maginnis says he expects Southeast Asia to determine global yellowfin prices in 2012. Tuna harvests there and currency exchange rates will be the major factors.
"Southeast Asia production will determine the market," he says.
So far, indicators appear to be improving for the U.S. fishery.
"What we're seeing is a little bit better demand," Maginnis says.
It remains to be seen if the domestic fishery can claw back a bit of market share.
Yellowfin imports increased in 2011 over 2010, but the numbers for January 2012 tell a different story.
Yellowfin imports for January 2012, the most recent for which federal import statistics are available, showed a big decrease over January 2011, especially from Vietnam. It's a change that dovetails nicely with the expected bump in weather-related early 2012 U.S. yellowfin production.
Fresh yellowfin imports from Vietnam, the biggest player for the past two years, dropped from 783,217 pounds worth $3.9 million for January 2011 to 371,861 pounds worth $1.9 million in January 2012.
Overall, January imports dropped from 3.2 million pounds in 2011 to 2.3 million pounds in 2012, while overall value dropped from $12.3 million to $9.7 million, according to the latest figures from NMFS.
Meanwhile, the high cost of going fishing remains one of the stubborn structural problems facing the fishery. And unfortunately, costs did not follow profits down during the recent recession, as one might expect.
"The cost of operations is really rough," Maginnis says, citing several contributing factors. "Squid prices, even sardines are really high," he says of two of the fleet's bait options.
Fuel remains an issue for long tuna trips with the cost of a gallon of diesel — at $3.65 in Louisiana, according to one dockside report — rivaling the ex-vessel price of a pound of yellowfin. Outfitting with breakaway hooks to avoid bluefin in the gulf adds to costs.
For some, the cost of outfitting a pelagic longline vessel just doesn't add up.
Niquet, whose son Thomas now runs the family's 58-foot longliner Galilean, is a good example of a fisherman who once chased tuna but finally decided to opt out of the fishery because of the expense of outfitting the vessel, difficulty getting and keeping crew, and the long trips. The Galilean now hunts reef fish, primarily grouper. — Hoyt Childers
Alaska & Pacific Salmon
West Coast forecast for record season; last MSC season in Alaska looks strong
West Coast fleets hope the booming forecasts for the 2012 fishery help them build on 2011, when trollers enjoyed their first full commercial season since 2008. Alaska's salmon industry racked up another year of good times in 2011, and the run and ex-vessel forecasts look equally promising for 2012.
NMFS approval for the Pacific Fishery Management Council's proposed 2012 West Coast salmon seasons was expected in May. But in April, the industry was optimistic for a strong harvest based on a phenomenal forecast.
The estimated population of 1.65 million ocean chinook is three times higher than any previous estimate (the forecasting program began in 1985). Last year's coastwide harvest of 1.13 million chinooks generated gross revenues of around $5 million.
"We've had wet winters and good ocean conditions, which has put young fish back to sea," says Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations in San Francisco.
Sacramento returns are estimated at 819,400, the best since 2005. That number is based on a conservative adjustment to the forecasting method, which brought it down from just over 2 million fish.
"Everyone is pleased to see such a strong abundance of the major Sacramento River and Klamath River workhorse stocks," said council Chairman Dan Wolford. "After achieving all the conservation goals for weak stocks in 2012, both recreational and commercial ocean salmon fishermen should enjoy a good season this summer."
According to preliminary Alaska Department of Fish and Game data, 2011 total ex-vessel revenues came in at around $603 million, just shy of the $605 million posted in 2010.
With ex-vessel prices averaging more than a dollar a pound, Alaska sockeye revenues hit nearly $296 million. And the preliminary value doesn't include late winter price adjustments from processors to fishermen made as part of various profit-sharing plans around the state.
Pinks generated more than $170 million in ex-vessel values last year, up from $162.6 million in 2010. Landings of 116 million fish exceeded the 107 million fish of 2010, and ex-vessel prices were about a nickel higher than the 40 cents per pound the fleet saw in 2010. Average ex-vessel prices for pinks had risen from 19 cents per pound in 2007 to 35 cents in 2008, according to Fish and Game data, then dropped to 27 cents in 2009.
"The prices for pinks were great [last year]," says Andy Wink, a seafood market analyst with the McDowell Group in Juneau.
Wink says approximately 65 percent of last year's pinks wound up frozen and 34 percent was canned, versus 52 percent frozen and 47 percent canned in 2010.
The sustainability of Alaska's salmon fisheries, meanwhile, will have to speak for itself. In January, eight major processors pulled out of the Marine Stewardship Council's certification program.
Alaska salmon earned MSC's blue label in 2000; the fishery was recertified in 2007. However, the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, the client that has represented the processing companies since 2010, announced in January that Alaska salmon would not undergo recertification.
In conversations with processing companies' representatives, says James Browning, the Anchorage-based foundation's executive director, buyers told the processors that they supported efforts to earn certification from Global Trust, an Ireland-based third party certifier that measures fishery management models against the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization standards.
"Other than some relatively strong push back from certain German retailers, the acceptance of [Global Trust] was good," Browning says. "Most of the [processing] companies were very positive about the receptivity and support they were receiving. They did not feel like opting out of MSC was going to hurt them financially."
Alaska's 2012 salmon harvest will bear the blue label for a final season, as well as the Global Trust responsible fisheries management certification, which was finalized in March. — Charlie Ess
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