ALASKA & PACIFIC Dungeness Crab

Landings less robust, but high demand
sends ex-vessel price to record levels

By Charlie Ess

While the West Coast Dungeness crab fleet’s 2013-14 season landings might not have been gangbusters, ex-vessel prices rose to stellar proportions, driving revenues to record levels.

“We’ve seen prices like we’ve never seen before,” says Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish lead biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in Montesano. “For a while, we saw seven bucks a pound.”

Diminished harvest volumes and competition among buyers filling demand in domestic and Asian markets drove those record dockside offers. The spikes of $7 a pound in Washington were consistent with reports from Oregon, bringing the season-long ex-vessel price averages for the two states to around $3.47 per pound.

Preliminary data show Washington coastal Dungeness landings hit 8.59 million pounds in 2013-14, down from the 13.96 million pounds caught in 2012-13.

In California, ex-vessel prices flew off the charts when processors paid up to $8.50 per pound for deliveries in February, according to Larry Collins, president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association.

“The season opened on time [Nov. 15] for $3 a pound.” Collins says. “There was a decent volume of crab at the opener that moved pretty smoothly through distribution channels.”
 
As of July 17, California’s 2013-14 landings totaled 16.88 million pounds worth $58.4 million, according to preliminary California Department of Fish and Wildlife data. Last season, California crabbers harvested 24.2 million pounds worth $68.9 million.

At the advent of the Oregon Dungie season, the fleet and major processors negotiated a starting price of $2.65.

“That’s the highest we’ve ever seen,” says Hugh Link, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, in Coos Bay.

When the Oregon season opened, processors, hungry for volumes that supply holiday domestic markets, paid $2.75 per pound. And the bidding wars continued throughout the season — especially when buyers funneling product into Asian markets entered the mix.

“The bricks-and-mortars [major processors] tried to get their packs put up, so they got pretty aggressive,” Link says. “There was a considerable amount of interest in live crab this year. A lot of it was exported, and there wasn’t as much for the domestic market.”

As the season unfolded, ex-vessel prices more than compensated for a lackluster harvest volume and set a record in fleet revenues, according to Link. The 14.4 million pounds that the Oregon fleet had landed by the time the season closed on Aug. 15 fell short of the 17.84 million pounds notched last season.

But the 2013-14 landings ended up being worth nearly $50 million, he says, whereas last season’s catch was valued at $47.6 million.

“We had a year where the harvest hit 33.6 million pounds,” says Link, “and even then we didn’t hit near $50 million.”

Interest from the Asian markets, which shows up primarily as exports to China, has skyrocketed in recent years.

NMFS foreign trade data show that in 2010, volumes of frozen, live and other product forms came in at 315,807 kilos and have risen steadily each year since. In 2013, the total reached 1.18 million kilos. As of July 2014, exports to China stood at 1.14 million kilos.

Likewise, the value of those exports has climbed from $2.86 million in 2010 to nearly $15 million in 2013. This year, through July, the value totaled $12.4 million.

Much of what the West Coast industry exports to Canada ends up in China, too. During the same four-year time period, volumes exported to Canada climbed from 159,758 kilos in 2010 to 328,511 kilos in 2013. As of July this year, exports to Canada tallied up to 203,380 kilos.

“Of course, most of the information we get is anecdotal,” says Link. “There is a lot of demand [in China], and there are more flights going over there. We hear that a lot of it goes out of Canada.”

. . .

GULF/SO. ATLANTIC Red Snapper

As quota-reallocation bid stalls, strong
prices portend happy holidays for fleet

By Hoyt Childers

Gulf of Mexico snapper fisheries and markets look very promising as the holiday season and its anticipated sales boost approach.

Prices remain very strong, with red snapper bringing $4.75 to $5 per pound ex-vessel in late September, says Alachua, Fla., fisherman Wayne Werner, who fishes his bandit-rigged 42-foot Sea Quest out of Louisiana ports. Western gulf red snapper fishing had been off a bit, which Werner attributes to several years of poor recruitment after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

“It’s a little slower than it normally is; we’re still paying for the oil spill,” he says. “We’ve had three years of low recruitment — rumor has it the fourth year looks better.”

Total value of Florida landings of the three top commercial snapper species — red, vermilion and yellowtail — increased from $17.2 million in 2012 to $17.9 million in 2013, according to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Florida fishermen typically land more red and vermilion snapper than do harvesters in any other state, while yellowtail is caught almost exclusively in Florida.

Gulf-wide, the 2014 red snapper IFQ harvest was more or less on track, with 4.01 million pounds caught as of the most recent update in September. That represents 76 percent of the 5.63-million-pound commercial quota, leaving 1.21 million pounds available for the remainder of the year and the holiday season.

The average annual red snapper ex-vessel price increased in Florida in 2013 to $3.70, up from $3.62 in 2012 and $3.52 in 2011. The vermilion snapper price rose to $2.91, up from $2.77 in 2012 and $2.61 in 2011. Yellowtail slipped a bit, to $2.83, from $2.90 in 2012 and $2.85 in 2011.
 
In Florida, the higher annual average red snapper prices correspond to larger harvests each year from 2011 to 2013, a significant indicator of a strong market. Vermilion and yellowtail harvests both dipped a bit in 2013 from the previous year’s landings. Vermilion snapper is still hard to find at times, compared to pre- oil-spill patterns, Werner says.

The red snapper fishery remains a lightning rod for sector conflict. Most recently, recreational fishing interests’ major push to have quota reallocated in their favor stalled out in the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
 
David Walker, an Andalusia, Ala., commercial fisherman, and Rob McDaniel, co-chair of Share the Gulf, whose stated goals are to maintain sustainable and fair access to seafood, co-authored an opinion piece published online at AL.com earlier this year. McDaniel is also the award-winning chef of SpringHouse, an Alexander City, Ala., restaurant.
 
“Instead of reallocation proposals that hurt our seafood industry and divide us,” wrote Walker and McDaniel, “we believe it’s the right time for the council to implement recreational management changes that can unite us and give anglers more fishing opportunity.”

Such arguments carried the day at the council’s June meeting in Key West’ (Since then, Walker has been appointed an at-large voting member of the council.) Supporters couldn’t muster the votes needed to approve reef fish management Amendment 28, which proposed awarding a larger share of red snapper quota to the recreational sector.

Now, at the recommendation of the Scientific and Statistical Committee, the council is taking a new look at how the recreational fishery is managed, Werner says. The council tabled Amendment 28 and is considering Amendment 40, which would separate the for-hire and private recreational subsectors in an effort to “provide a basis for flexible management approaches tailored to each component of the recreational sector” and to “reduce the likelihood of recreational quota overruns.”

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