Strong salmon forecast pushes up permit prices

Nearly all Alaska salmon permits have gone up in value since last fall. Buying, selling and trading action is brisk.

“We’re as busy as we’ve ever been in the last 20 years,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Boat sales are doing well, and between IFQs and permit sales, we’ve got a busy year going.”

The salmon permit interest is fueled by a forecast this year of more than 213 million fish, an 85 percent increase over 2018. Also, salmon prices are expected to be higher.

For the bellwether drift permit at Bristol Bay, the value has increased from around $165,000, and sales are now being made in the low- to mid-$170,000 range.

Several good salmon seasons in a row pushed drift permits at Area M on the Alaska Peninsula to about $175,000 last fall, Bowen said “and if you can find one now, it’s going to cost you over $200,000.”

At Cook Inlet, where salmon catches have been dismal for the drift fishery, permit values bottomed out at $28,000 and have climbed a bit to $38,000. At the salmon fishery’s peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cook Inlet drift permits were traded at over $240,000, Bowen said.

“When Alaska’s salmon industry crashed in the early 1990s due to the flood of farmed fish, those permits dropped to under $10,000 and since then have been all over the map,” he added.

The drift fleet at Prince William Sound also had one of its worst years last summer and that permit is one of the few that has gone down in value.

“They were over $150,000 and the last one we sold was at $145,000,” Bowen said.

For Prince William Sound seiners, who are expecting a good pink salmon year, the permit value is listed at $170,000, a $5,000 increase from last fall.

At Kodiak, seine permits have held steady for several years in the $28,000 range.

At Chignik, where seiners experienced the worst fishery ever last year catching just 128 sockeyes, there is little to no interest in permits.

Salmon permit action in Southeast Alaska “is kind of a mix,” said Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg.

For both buying and leasing, there’s less interest in power troll permits for a second year but prices “are holding at a respectable $27,000 to $28,000,” Olsen said.

“The permit holders have a really positive outlook for all species except kings, so they don’t understand why the price isn’t going up,” she said, adding that there is little interest in hand troll permits.

Southeast drift permit prices are up with expectations of good prices and lots of fish.

“Last year they were selling for $79,000 to the low $80’s and currently prices are at $95,000. So that’s been a hot permit,” Olsen said. “They are opening new fishing areas which they feel should thin out the herd and have plenty of fish for everybody.”

Demand also is up for Southeast seine permits and the price has increased to $250,000, a boost of $25,000 since last fall.

Both Olsen and Bowen agreed that Alaska salmon permit holders are looking toward a good year.

“We’re seeing a lot of optimism pretty much across the board,” Bowen said.

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Laine Welch is an independent Kodiak, Alaska-based fisheries journalist. Click here to send her an email.

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