Hungry markets for West Coast albacore with prices on the upswing

West Coast albacore trollers can look forward to hungry markets and healthy ex-vessel prices as the fishing season goes into full swing. Though the fishery usually takes place from early July through October, fishermen found fish a full month earlier last year. Bountiful deliveries were tied to favorable water temperatures, according to Wayne Heikkila, executive director of the Western Fishboat Owners Association.

“They had good fishing the first week of June,” says Heikkila. As the ocean began cooling from the warm one-two punch of El Niño and the so-called Blob, albacore trollers found pockets of water in the optimum 60- to 64-degree range and began filling their holds. What’s even better is that concentrations of albacore have been found closer to the coast in recent years, and fuel savings are adding up.

According to PacFIN, fishermen in the three states landed 11,313 metric tons for average ex-vessel prices of $1.18 per pound in 2015. Heikkila says dock prices for brined fresh and frozen fish and for blast-frozen fish have been on the upswing since then.

“They have been receiving $1 to $1.50 a pound for brine, and blast has been as low as $1.25 and as high as $3.50,” says Heikkila. “Three years ago there was a glut of blast-bled on the market, and it took a couple of years to clear out the inventory. Product wasn’t moving, and prices had to be cut down to those paid for brine fish to move it out.” Heikkila adds that the markets can tolerate around 10,000 metric tons. When U.S. vessels harvest 12,000 metric tons, and the Canadian fleet kicks in another 5,000 metric tons, prices begin to go soft.

As for the flow of product into the markets, Heikkila says canned product primarily heads for outlets in Europe, while domestic sales of fresh albacore have outstripped volumes that went to Asian markets in years past.

“Canned prices haven’t really changed much,” he says. “But the fresh market is the one that has really taken off.”

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

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