After a salmon season that successfully fished its way through a pandemic and upturned markets, the value of Alaska salmon permits is ticking up in two regions while toppling in others.

Permit values are derived by the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission based on the average value of four permit sales.

One of the uppers is the bellwether fishery at Bristol Bay where driftnet permits are showing good gains after a strong fishing season, despite a disappointing base sockeye price of $0.70 a pound, down by nearly half from last year.

“Probably the lowest asking price out there right now is $170,000,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Of course, the next big news here for the bay would be the forecasts for next year, which are not out yet, and they could certainly have an influence on what people are willing to pay for those permits. But they have come up considerably from the low of $150,000 before the season.”

Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg lists one Bristol Bay permit at $195,000, while Dock Street Brokers has new drift listings at between $170,000 and $180,000.

Kodiak was a bright spot for salmon seiners who caught an unexpected surge of more than 21 million pinks. That helped boost permit values for the first time in years.

“Before the season, those Kodiak seine permits were probably worth around $35,000. In recent sales, they've ticked up to around $38,000 and we have them available on the market now at $40,000. So they've trended up a bit.”

Permit Master shows Kodiak seine cards listed between $36,000-$40,000, and $45,000 at Dock Street.

Elsewhere in Alaska, other salmon permit values have declined since last spring.

At Cook Inlet, yet another lousy season has pushed down the value to the $20,000 range, the lowest since farmed salmon caused a crash decades ago.

“Those Cook Inlet drift permits got up to as high as $240,000 or $250,000 at the high water mark, and then when farmed salmon came along in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the entire salmon industry crashed, and the permit values dropped by 90 percent or more. I remember selling Cook Inlet drifts for $10,000 at the bottom,” Bowen said.

The Copper River drift fishery this year also was a wash.

“The fish just did not show up on the flats there. Before the season, those permits were around $140,000 give or take, and recent sales are around $105,000,” he said. “They've dropped a lot and there's not much movement there. Nobody wants to sell at those low prices.”

Prince William Sound seiners did better in their fisheries, but those permit values also have taken a dip from $140,000-$145,000 before the season.

“You could probably pick one up for $130,000 now,” Bowen said.

At Southeast Alaska, where a disaster has been declared after one of the worst seasons in more than 40 years, salmon permit values reflect the decline.

“The market for drift and seine permits is about flat with very little interest or movement in those Southeast permits,” Bowen said. “Before the season, you could have picked up a drift permit for $70,000. The lowest asking price out there now is probably $67,000, so I would imagine you could pick one up for somewhere in the $60,000 range. In the spring of last year, Southeast seine permits were around $250,000; the asking price now is $175,000.”

Nowhere in Alaska has a salmon permit value dropped more than at Chignik, once the most exclusive in the state.

“They were probably the most expensive salmon permit on the market for a while at about a half a million dollars. There has been absolutely no activity in that Chignik seine permit market, and the lowest asking price is probably about $90,000. But there is zero interest there,” Bowen added.

Permit values at Area M (False Pass) also show little interest after a lousy season with no sales post-season.

“We have a permit listed at $185,000 and an offer of $140,000,” he added.

Despite the downturns, Bowen said most people are still optimistic about Alaska’s iconic fishery, and boat sales are brisk.

“You have to be willing to take a risk to plunk down a big chunk of cash for a boat in these times with so much uncertainty, but our boat sales are doing great,” he said. “I don't think anything demonstrates confidence in the industry as much as buying a boat. It's a huge investment, and people are making them.”

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

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