Alaska & Pacific Herring

Glut of product in market and softening

demand translate into lower dock price

By Charlie Ess

With plenty of herring available along the West Coast and Alaska, questions loom of how much is too much to funnel into a glutted market.

In San Francisco, as buyers readied their docks to accept herring in anticipation of the 2015 season opening on Jan. 1, the issue of ex-vessel prices weighed heavy on the minds of processors and fishermen.

“The market looks like it is still pretty soft right now,” says Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “It’s a combination of factors. They can get herring from so many areas around the globe, and then there’s the changing demographics of consumers. I think we’re just up against these things.”

Those demographics concern consumption of kazunoko, a popular Japanese New Year’s dish. The ranks of Japan’s aging traditional kazunoko consumers are thinning.

Moreover, the salted herring roe dish, a traditional gift during Japan’s holiday season, isn’t as popular with the younger generation. The waning consumption and the yen’s diminishing strength against the dollar have dulled buyer interest, lowering ex-vessel prices.

The base price for the 2013-14 season averaged out to around $268 per ton, according to Ryan Bartling, a fisheries scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in Santa Rosa. That base price is down significantly from the $730 per ton paid in the 2012-13 season and below the $302 processors paid in the 2011-12 season.

The price drop provided the impetus for a lower San Francisco fishery quota for 2015, even though biomass estimates would have let the fleet harvest 
more fish.

“The industry came to us and requested a lower quota because of market conditions,” says Bartling. The 2015 quota of 2,500 tons is down from 3,737 tons in 2014 and 2,854 tons in 2013.

 Bartling adds that there is an abundance of herring ready to recruit into the fishery, should demand increase.

“The age class structure looks to be in good condition,” he says. “We have a good representation of 3-, 4-, 5- and even 6-year-old herring as well.”

At least part of the reason for the lower West Coast prices lies thousands of miles to the north, in Alaska, where the Togiak fishery quota is higher 
for 2015.

The Togiak fishery remains a mainstay for Alaska’s herring production. But with markets awash in product, ex-vessel prices there dropped from $125 per ton in recent years to $50 last year. The number of participating boats likewise dwindled from 22 in 2013 to 17 last year.

This year, seiners will whack away at a quota of 20,309 tons while gillnetters fish on their allocation of 8,704 tons. That’s up from 19,523 tons for seiners and 8,367 tons for gillnetters last year.

Recruitment of younger fish into the biomass and other favorable survival factors pushed the Togiak quota upward.

“We had really good survey conditions last year, and we saw a lot of herring,” says Tim Sands, area management biologist with Fish and Game, in Dillingham.

Biomass health is less robust in the Sitka Sound sac roe fishery, forcing managers there to set the 2015 quota at 8,712 tons, down significantly from the 2014 quota of 16,333 tons. It’s the Sitka fishery’s lowest quota in more than a decade.

“Recruitment of the age 3 herring in 2014 was very poor, meaning very low survival of young herring from the 2011 spawn,” says Dave Gordon, area management biologist with Fish and Game, in Sitka.

Whether the smaller Sitka quota and the rock-bottom prices of Togiak will predicate reduced interest in the fleet remains to be seen.

“I haven’t heard any company say they wouldn’t buy,” Sands says. “I can’t see the seine fleet getting any smaller unless some buyers pull out.”

*  *  *


Gulf/So. Atlantic Shrimp

Falling diesel prices help offset lower
landings and mixed ex-vessel offerings

By Hoyt Childers

With overall January-through-November shrimp landings down slightly from 2013 and prices up in the eastern gulf and down in the western part, the outlook for 2015 is mixed. However, the region’s shrimpers welcomed the decrease in diesel fuel costs seen at the end of 2014.

For the first 11 months, landings increased strongly in Florida Gulf Coast ports and in Alabama, according to the most recent federal statistics, but decreased slightly from recent years in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

November ex-vessel prices for all sizes of headless shrimp except 41-50 count climbed significantly in Florida, despite a surprising 41 percent landings hike over the same 11 months in 2013. Headless 31-35-count shrimp, at $5.67 per pound, enjoyed the biggest price jump for the period, up 30 percent over the 2013 November price.

In Alabama, landings rose by an even more surprising 52 percent over the January-to-November period in 2013. Alabama landings have been very erratic since the 2010 BP oil spill, ranging from 4.6 million pounds that year to 9 million in 2011, 9.8 million in 2012, 7.8 million in 2013 and 11.9 million in 2014.

Mississippi landings slipped again, dropping from nearly 5.5 million pounds in 2013 to 4.6 million in 2014. The Louisiana catch decreased slightly, from 54.34 million pounds in 2013 to 53.67 million pounds in 2014.

Texas shrimp production declined — from 36.8 million pounds in 2013 to 30 million pounds — as did the November average price on three out of seven shrimp sizes. But gulf shrimpers did get some welcome support from the environmental research community.

A study led by Benny Gallaway, president of LGL Ecological Research Associates, in College Station, Texas, was presented at the International Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Symposium held in Brownsville in December. It shows that shrimping impacts on Kemp’s ridley sea turtles have been very low since implementation of the federal turtle-excluder-device requirement in the Gulf of Mexico.

A big drop in prices in the fall led Louisiana shrimpers to strike briefly in protest in September. Most shrimpers were back fishing within a week, and it is unclear whether the strike had much effect.

However, average shrimp prices in November in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were higher over the previous November for 0-15 count, 21-25 count, 31-35 count, 36-40 count and 41-50 count. They were slightly lower for 15-20 and 26-30 count. Prices for Texas product rose for four of the seven sizes listed.

Ernie Anderson, owner of Graham Shrimp Co. in Bayou La Batre, Ala., in late December said prices were holding pretty well for Alabama shrimpers, though they had decreased somewhat from earlier in the year.

Headless 21-25-count shrimp were bringing about $6 a pound to the boat, Anderson said.

“They were pushing over $7” earlier in the year, he noted, adding that heads-on 21-25-count shrimp were about $2.40 a pound, down from $3.40 to $3.60.

While the price had dropped from earlier in the year, shrimpers benefitted from a corresponding sharp decrease in diesel fuel costs.

“Fuel is pushing $2 now [in late December], helping the boats out,” Anderson said. He figured that in order to make ends meet, local shrimpers needed fuel to remain at $2.40 a gallon or less.

The diesel fuel price dropped precipitously over 2014 as the cost of crude oil fell. By comparison, diesel at one Southeastern port cost $3.30 as late as June.

As for the odd coincidence of lower production and lower prices in some areas in the domestic market, imports of shrimp products increased from January through October, according to the latest available federal statistics. As usual, cyclical fluctuations in the global market and corresponding imports played roles.

Imports rose by almost 100 million pounds, from 799.1 million pounds in 2013 to 895.3 million pounds in 2014. The 2013 total, on the other hand, represented a substantial drop from 881.4 million pounds for the same 11-month period in 2012.    


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