West Coast albacore trollers remained hopeful that restaurants and other end markets would open for business in time for this year’s harvest, which usually increases in late June and July.

Last year the pandemic led to widespread closures of the usual outlets for blast and bled albacore, which meant many of the fish destined for high-end markets wound up in cans to accommodate the surge in demand for shelf-stable foods. 

The demand for canned didn’t exactly help the commercial trolling sector of the industry. At the docks, fishermen saw ex-vessel prices drop from around $4,000 to $3,200 per short ton.

“I think it just moved inventory from the warehouses to peoples’ garages,” says Wayne Heikkila, executive director of Western Fishboat Owners Association in Redding, Calif. Another factor depressing the prices, Heikkila adds, was last year’s huge harvest of albacore offshore of Japan. By some estimates, that may have put upward of 25,000 tons into an already-sluggish market.

“Prices are still depressed,” he says. “Markets are stagnant since last fall.”

Some late-season deliveries in 2020 brought fishermen around $2,700 per ton. Higher prices awaited fishermen who scrambled for the permitting to sell dockside or into street markets. 

“Fresh albacore sold off the boats went for $3 to $4 per pound,” says Heikkila. Though that equates to between $6,000 and $8,000 per ton, the vast majority of deliveries ranged from $1.49 to $1.60 per pound ($3,200 per short ton or less), according to data found in PacFin.

Meanwhile, the harvest volume for West Coast fishermen in the past three seasons continues to fall below the 30-year average. According to the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s SAFE document, hook and line albacore fishermen landed 7,404 short tons in 2018 and 7,974 short tons in 2019. Though 2020 data was not yet available, Heikkila says that the harvest fell around the 8,000-ton mark.

Average annual landings from 1990 to 2019 in the SAFE data set crunch out to 10,527 short tons with a high of 15,306 short tons landed in 2012. Revenues for that same period average $27.46 million with a high of $50.4 million in 2012.

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

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