West Coast albacore trollers saw a slower paced fishery in 2017. Landings at the end of the year stood at 7,470.7 metric tons, according to data from PacFIN. Ex-vessel prices of $2.12 per pound brought fleet revenues to $34.87 million. In 2016, landings for the South and North Pacific regions tallied up to 10,266.23 metric tons at ex-vessel prices of $2.10 per pound for revenues of $3.73 million.

Last year’s harvest came in significantly lower than the 20-year average.

“West Coast fishing was pretty slow,” said Wayne Heikkila, executive director of Western Fishboat Owners Association, in Redding, Calif. “The harvest was about 40 percent down.”

Fishing for albacore in the South Pacific proved equally slow. It wasn’t that the fish weren’t there, according to Heikkila. They were just spread out and hard to find.

“They got fish pretty much everywhere,” said Heikkila. “Some boats went all the way west to the dateline, but it was like 2005, when it was hard to catch 40 to 50 fish a day.”

The scattered schools in both the South Pacific and nearshore waters of the West Coast dashed hopes of a large harvest.

“A lot of the catch was late,” said Heikkila. “But it ended up a little better than we thought it would.”

As the fleet readied for this year’s season, questions remained whether last year’s sparse concentrations of albacore would go down as an anomaly or part of a trend — and whether ocean conditions making the swing from El Niño toward La Niña would play an optimistic hand in returning the catch closer to its 20-year average.

As of May 28, real-time water temperature readings offshore of southern Oregon hovered around 3 degrees cooler than the historical average, according to data from NOAA, while readings from northern Oregon and Washington remained up to 5 degrees warmer.

Ex-vessel prices for the upcoming season will likely react to volume in the markets. Brined fish sell primarily throughout distribution chains in Europe, while blast-frozen albacore are primarily consumed in the United States. Heikkila said that some deliveries of blast frozen fish brought up to $4 per pound late last year.

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

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