As Alaska’s iconic halibut fishery wraps up this week, stakeholders are holding their breath to learn if catches might ratchet up slightly again in 2017. Meanwhile, prices for hard to get shares of the halibut catch are jaw-dropping.
The halibut fishery ends on Nov. 7 for nearly 2,000 longliners who hold IFQs (Individual Fishing Quotas) of halibut. The Alaska fishery will produce a catch of more than 20 million pounds if the limit is reached by the fleet. Last year, the halibut haul was worth nearly $110 million at the Alaska docks.
For the first time in several decades the coastwide Pacific halibut harvest numbers increased this year by 2.3 percent to nearly 30 million pounds. Along with Alaska, the eight-month fishery includes the Pacific coast states and British Columbia.
The feeling that the halibut resource is stabilizing and recovering after a long decline has upped the ante for shares of the catch. The fact that the dock price again hovered in the $6 to $7 a pound range all season at major ports also has fanned interest. It holds especially true for shares of Southeast Alaska fish.
“Fishermen say they’re seeing some of the best fishing they’ve ever seen in their lives there — bigger fish, better production — and you see that reflected in IFQ prices,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer.
The quota shares are sold in various categories, and the asking price for prime shares in Southeast waters has reached $70 per pound!
IFQ asking prices for shares in the Central Gulf, the largest halibut fishing hole, also have increased to $60 a pound, according to several broker listings.
But the buying there is not as aggressive as in the Panhandle.
“They took a 5 percent cut – it’s the only area in the entire coast that didn’t stay the same or have an increase. There is still quite a bit of concern about the resource there,” he said. “And there’s still a lot of concern about other removals and possibly inaccurate accounting of bycatch.”
Halibut shares in the Western Gulf sold for a record $48, Bowen said. Shares in regions of the Bering Sea were listed mostly in the mid-$20 range.
The halibut fishery falls under the stewardship of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which has set the annual coastwide catch limits based on surveys since 1923. Stakeholders will get a first glimpse of recommended catches at an upcoming IPHC meeting Nov. 29-30 in Seattle. Mum’s the word so far on any numbers for 2017.
“They won’t reveal any information about how their surveys went, for better or worse, and I give them a lot of credit for that,” Bowen said, “because it would only fan the flames of speculation in the IFQ market.”
On a related note: Linda Behnken of Sitka has received a presidential appointment as a Commissioner to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Behnken has been a commercial fisherman for over 30 years, and since 1991 has been Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association.