Alaska & Pacific / WHITING
Recruitment and quota continue to rise;
unrest in Russia and Ukraine mars price
By Charlie Ess
West Coast whiting trawlers can expect a harvest similar to last year’s in terms of TAC, and prices will adjust to market volumes from the Chilean hake harvest and other countries producing competing whitefish.
The coastwide adjusted TAC for Canada and the United States is 440,000 metric tons for 2015. Of that, 325,072 metric tons were allocated to U.S. fishermen, with the remaining 114,928 tons going to Canadian harvesters. In recent years, management of the fishery has been carried out under a joint agreement between the two governments. The United States has been allocated 73.88 percent of the harvest, and Canada takes 26.12 percent.
The TAC for this year’s fishery is on the rise from 2014, when managers prescribed 428,000 metric tons — U.S. at 316,206, and Canada at 111,794 metric tons. The strong TACs ride on healthy recruitment, according to Allan Hicks, a fishery research biologist at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. Hicks is also a member of the Joint Technical Committee for Pacific Whiting and Hake.
“The 2008 and 2010 cohorts are above average recruitment, and the 2010 recruitment is estimated to be one of the four largest recruitment events observed,” says Hicks, adding that if fish from those two years act anything like they did in the previous decade, we can expect continued contributions to the health of the biomass. “The 1999 cohort significantly contributed to the biomass and fishery catches until it was age 13. We can expect the 2010 cohort to contribute to the biomass of the fisheries for at least another eight years.”
The West Coast is not the only production area of the world with a healthy outlook in its hake fisheries. With a TAC of 23 million metric tons, Chilean hake production will play a hand in this year’s markets.
“Perhaps the bigger effect is going to be the continuing unrest in Ukraine and the Russian boycott of U.S. products,” says Rod Moore, executive director with the West Coast Seafood Processors Association in Portland, Ore. “Those were two of our biggest markets.”
The surge of product going to Ukraine rose steadily from a little more than 10 million kilos a year to more than 17 million kilos in 2011, according to export data from NMFS. In 2013, the United States exported 21.33 million kilos of frozen whiting products to Ukraine. In 2014, exports plummeted to 3.01 million kilos, and as of March 2015, exports were 3.34 million kilos.
Those factors seem to be leading to a drop in this year’s ex-vessel prices. West Coast fishermen saw dockside offers of 12 cents per pound in 2013 and 11 cents in 2014. As of May, the average ex-vessel price for 2015 stood at 7 cents per pound, according to data in PacFIN.
“I’m hearing that the market is softer this year and that the ex-vessel price will be lower,” says Brad Pettinger, director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, in Brookings, Ore.
As for other market developments, the whiting trawl fishery won its five-year recertification by the Marine Stewardship Council last year for its sustainable management. The ecolabel has found favor among countries in the European Union as they source whitefish products from around the world.
“I am not sure if this has opened any new doors lately, but the client group [the third-party entity that evaluates the fishery] never wavered from recertifying the fishery,” says Pettinger, adding that the fishery “was certified with no conditions placed on it and one of the highest scores [high 90 points] ever.”
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Gulf and South Atlantic SUMMER FLOUNDER
N.C. market wins with steady supply,
but the Oregon Inlet problem persists
By Hoyt Childers
After years of struggling with logistical challenges that have kept this premium fishery from achieving its market potential, North Carolina summer flounder emerged from 2014 with record or near-record landings and prices — and that trend appears to be continuing in 2015.
North Carolina’s fleet had landed 1.96 million pounds as of April 29. That is 66 percent of the 2015 quota of 2.99 million pounds, based on data from NMFS. This matches up well with the comparable period in 2014, when fishermen landed 2.01 million pounds, or 68 percent of 2014’s 2.97 million-pound quota.
For most of this spring, the price was very good, “mostly in the $2 to $2.25 range,” says Steve George, general manager of Willie R. Etheridge Seafood Co. in Wanchese, on Roanoke Island.
The 2014 overall value of landings, at $8.21 million, according to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, was the best since 2006. The 2014 harvest volume of 2.91 million pounds was the best since 2010. The average price for 2014, at $2.82 a pound ex-vessel, appears to be an all-time record, and a record based on abundance rather than scarcity. That supports what North Carolina fishermen have said for years: A steady, consistent supply is a make-or-break component of the summer flounder market success.
Since the fishery was declared rebuilt in 2010, the primary problem for North Carolina fishermen has been the shoaling of Oregon Inlet, the only convenient access to the big fish houses inside the central and upper sounds. The summer flounder stocks have also shifted somewhat north in the Atlantic. In part, that’s because of the rebuilding program’s success; there are more big fish now, which tend to stay farther north.
Because of the Oregon Inlet shoaling — which for years has excluded all but the smallest commercial vessels — and the summer flounder population shift, more vessels began landing their fish in Virginia ports. That resulted in major losses for the in-state seafood business. In response, North Carolina fishery managers limited the conditions under which vessels can land their catch out of state. To sweeten the deal, they implemented an additional open period to allow fishermen to better utilize the state’s summer flounder quota.
For the second consecutive year, the Division of Marine Fisheries opened a new harvest window during the spring and summer months when the fishery would normally be closed. In 2015, between April 27 and Sept. 30, fishermen are able to make an additional 75-box limit trip that also includes a 100-pound black sea bass allowance.
The dual strategy of out-of-state landings constraints and an additional off-season trip “worked out real good,” says George. “Most all the trips came home.”
This strategy was implemented at the request of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, says President Jerry Schill. While Virginia landings allowed a short-term gain for some, the North Carolina industry was suffering and actually in danger of losing much of its summer flounder quota, as other states made the case that the North Carolina quota was underutilized. Something had to be done, Schill says, to preserve the economic viability of the industry, and the North Carolina Fisheries Association convinced state fisheries managers to act.
“They defer to what we recommend,” Schill says. “No more landings in other states unless it is an issue of life and limb, and we stuck to that.”
In 2014, for the first time in years, fishermen landed 98 percent of the state’s portion of the coastwide allocation. Much of this increase went to North Carolina ports farther to the south, which are accessible through inlets less troubled by shoaling.
However, for the larger vessels, traveling to passable inlets to the south on North Carolina’s Outer Banks adds many hours to their trips to and from the fish houses on Roanoke Island.
“Oregon Inlet is just a disaster,” George says. “Our longliners make the trip; it takes them an extra 12 hours.”