Alaska & Pacific Herring

San Francisco, Sitka Sound fleets enjoy higher catch limits for sac roe fisheries

Optimistic survey data enabled San Francisco Bay herring gillnetters to begin fishing on a quota of 3,442 short tons on Jan. 1, up sharply from last season's quota of 2,690 tons.

The decision to raise the sac roe fishery's gillnet quota stems from encouraging survey data, says Tom Greiner, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in Santa Rosa.

"We've seen a steady increase in our biomass over the last four years," Greiner says. A conservative exploitation rate of around 4.7 percent on the biomass, he adds, has led to an increase in abundance.

Better yet, recent age composition studies suggest that greater contributions of several age classes are fueling the fishery instead of a single age class that was the dominant contributor in years past.

According to Greiner, the harvests of a few years ago were largely comprised of fish born in 2007. Since then increasing numbers of fish born in 2008, 2009 and 2010 are showing up in the mix.

The presence of younger fish is a welcome discovery. However, length at age still lags in comparison to the late 1970s, when the mean average length taken from harvest samples stretched out to around 210 millimeters.

Since then size at age has declined, down to a low of around 170 millimeters in 2010-11 studies before rebounding to 180 millimeters last year. Just how the larger fish and their larger egg skeins relate to marketability remains to be seen.

As the season began in early January, herring were filling San Francisco Bay, and some had even begun to spawn. Thus, the commercial fleet was very active, says Ryan Bartling, environmental scientist-marine fisheries with Fish and Wildlife.

Last year, the bay's herring fleet earned a base price of $500 per ton, with an extra $50 per roe recovery percentage point above 10 percent, Bartling says. This year, he adds, the base price is expected to be $300 per ton, with $30 per point.

As for broadening markets beyond Japan, Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, says recent interest in the second annual Sausalito Herring Festival, which was scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 9, promises to develop stronger regional markets by showcasing herring recipes from top chefs.

"What we're trying to do is diversify by introducing herring to people because they are a good food source," Grader says. "We're preparing them for the American palate."

In Alaska, the Sitka Sound sac roe fishery's guideline harvest level sits at 17,592 tons, well shy of the record 29,000 tons of 2012. In 2013, the fleet caught roughly half of its 11,600-ton GHL, as fish arrived en masse and spawned out. Catching huge quotas with a fleet of 51 boats and a daily processing capacity of around 4,000 tons always presents a challenge to managers and the industry.

"Rapid development of spawning really caught us off guard," says Dave Gordon, area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, in Sitka.

For Alaska's crop, which is primarily funneled to markets in Japan, the falling yen value could translate to lower ex-vessel prices as this year's season begins.

Monthly averages in the exchange rates during the herring months of March, April and May during 2011 ran between 80 and 83 yen to the dollar. During the same months in 2012, the yen saw a high of around 82.5 then dipped below 80 in May.

Last year, however, the yen started out at nearly 95 to the dollar in March and weakened to more than 100 to the dollar in May.

Though data wasn't yet available to crunch out last year's ex-vessel prices at Sitka, Gordon says that the average roe recovery was 13 percent and that processors offered $600 per ton for fish at 10 percent. — Charlie Ess

Gulf/South Atlantic Shrimp

Price is nice down South as disease slows flow of Asian farmed product

The Southern U.S. shrimp fleet faces the 2014 season bolstered by something not seen since underpriced Asian farmed shrimp slammed the domestic market at the turn of the century — strong and consistently higher across-the-board prices.

A drop in imports from Asian countries where disease has plagued shrimp farms is in part behind the higher prices. However, in some places a slow harvest has to some degree nullified the increase in domestic prices.

Local reports of dramatically higher ex-vessel prices and a dramatically lower domestic harvest abound. But overall, federal harvest reports through October show a slight drop in the Gulf of Mexico harvest and consistently higher prices.

There were exceptions to the good prices, however, said Kenneth Martina in Apalachicola, Fla., in the fall.

"It was fair this summer, a few of the hoppers [pink shrimp] and then brown shrimp," said Martina. "They didn't want to pay nothing for them — a dollar a pound for [heads-on] 40-50s." Martina sometimes sold directly to the public to maximize profits.

"When we caught the hoppers, I just sold them to people who wanted to put them in the freezer," he said.

Lower fuel prices — at $3.39 in Apalachicola in November versus $3.59 the previous year — helped a bit, too.

Gulf of Mexico landings of brown, white, pink and rock shrimp (headless) through October totaled 97.5 million pounds, down slightly from the 2012 January through October figure of 98.7 million pounds, according to the latest numbers from NMFS. By comparison, the pre-oil-spill January through October 2009 harvest was 114.6 million pounds.

Average prices were up over the previous year, in all regions of the gulf and for all shrimp sizes, according to NMFS data.

For example, in Florida's west coast ports, the price of 26-30 count shrimp (headless) jumped from $4.05 to $5.50 a pound. In Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, the price for the same size increased from $3.70 to $4.70, on average.

And in Texas the price rose from $3.40 to $5.70. The most dramatic increases were evident in Texas, where the 15-20 count price increased from $4.35 to $7 and 21-30s increased from $4.85 to $6.30.

On the Atlantic coast, Marilyn Solorzano, whose small fleet of family-run trawlers occasionally fishes both sides of the Florida peninsula out of Jacksonville, was stoic about the disappointing season.

"It is what it is," she said in November. "Our white shrimp has been very late. Our brown shrimp were down. We should have went to the gulf. The rock shrimp were our salvation."

Following the regional price trend, rock shrimp, which are mostly caught on Florida's Atlantic coast, increased in price from $1.94 in 2012 to $2.05 in 2013.

One of Solorzano's three shrimper sons, Lee Vogelsong, who mostly works the Atlantic side with his 98-foot Miss Carolyn Louise, was dragging off the south Florida coast early in November.

"We work from Fort Lauderdale all the way up to Jacksonville," Vogelsong said. "Right now I'm off West Palm... The rock shrimp was below average, but the price was real good. This year has been a bad year for us, no white shrimp, no brown shrimp; we've had to do a lot of royal red [shrimp]."

Reflecting the reduced harvest in the disease-plagued Asian shrimp farms, imports of shrimp have been sliding for two years now. They've dipped (January through September) from 891.3 million pounds in 2011 to 798.1 million in 2013, according to current U.S. import figures.

If the prices hold and imports remain at this rare disadvantage, domestic shrimpers will no doubt do their best in 2014 to maximize a chance to claw back at least a tiny bit of market share.
— Hoyt Childers

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