Carryover frozen halibut brews competition in Alaska

Small blackcod sink dockside prices


As the fleet fished on a halibut quota of 16.63 million pounds, dockside offers ranged from $4.25 to $5.50 per pound for fish 20 pounds and under to 40 pounds and up. That’s down significantly from the 2017 spread of $6.40 to $6.90 per pound when the fleet fished on a quota of 18.3 million pounds.

This year’s pricing trend flies in the face of market dynamics of years past, when diminished supplies translated to higher prices all the way through the distribution chain.

Whether the volume of supplies and price point have reached the equilibrium of what consumers will pay for a slice of halibut on their plates remains to be seen. In the meantime, Bob Alverson, manager of the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association in Seattle, noted that processors have reported carryover inventories of frozen Pacific halibut from 2017 are competing with volumes of fresh Atlantic halibut funneling into markets along the East Coast.

The fall in ex-vessel prices for blackcod tells a slightly different story. The 2018 quota has been set at 25.8 million pounds, up from the 22.58 million pounds of 2017. Alverson noted that strong year classes of fish spawned in 2014 and 2015 have begun recruiting into the fishery — good news in the health of the resource.

However, the extra quantities of the 2- to 3-pound fish coming across the docks has precipitated decreased pricing in export markets to Japan and throughout Asia.

“The Japanese and the Asian market [in general]has been really tough,” said Alverson. “They know there’s a bunch of juveniles, that the fish are there, and they’ll be landed.”

The onslaught of smaller fish opens new markets. As the price per fish drops, distributors have been able to direct them through cheaper retail outlets — but at a consequence to fishermen.

In May, ex-vessel offers ran from $2 per pound for 2-pound fish, $3 per pound for 3-pound fish and topped out at $7.85 for fish weighing 7 pounds and up. In 2017, processors paid $5.25 for fish in the 2- to 3-pound range, $6.45 for 3- to 4-pound fish, and the 7ups brought $9.50.

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Charlie Ess is the North Pacific Bureau Chief for National Fisherman.

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