by Laine Welch
A year ago, the depressed economy made it slow going for brokers who buy, sell and trade fishing permits. But that’s no longer the case. Higher salmon prices have driven up both demand and prices for salmon permits in most regions of the state.
“This year has been much busier for us,” said Doug Bowen at Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “We’ve seen most of the benchmark permits up as high as they’ve been in the past 10-12 years, basically since the industry crashed when the farmed salmon came along.”
“With a few exceptions in some areas, people are pretty worked up about salmon these days, and the permit market has been responding accordingly,” agreed Jeff Osborn at Dock Street Brokers in Seattle.
Bristol Bay drift permits, for example, are selling for up to $132,000, compared to $74,000 a year ago. Another hot item is Prince William Sound seine permits.
Seine permits “went insane” Bowen said, and practically doubled in value overnight to $150,000-$160,000. Dock Street has PWS seine permits listed as high as $195,000.
Other examples: Cook Inlet drift permits at $50,000; Southeast drifts at $66,000; a permit for Panhandle power troll fetches $27,000-$37,000; and a Yukon gillnet permit is around $10,000.
An exception to the upward trend is Kodiak, where lackluster salmon fisheries have seine permits stalled in the $30,000 range with little demand.
Overall, the brokers said they are optimistic about the outlook for Alaska salmon.
“Hopefully, we’ve turned a corner and wild salmon is finally getting the attention and respect it has always deserved,” Bowen said. “The product quality is way up, prices are up, and we’re all hoping for another great season next year.”
Just as higher salmon prices have pushed up the value of permits, the same is holding true for quota shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab.
“The price for the product is the main driver and we are seeing the highest prices ever for halibut and black cod,” Bowen said.
Last year, the recession kept a downward press on fish prices, but they have rebounded to record levels. Halibut has topped $6.50 a pound at major ports; and over $7 a pound for large black cod.
“We are back up to the same values we saw two years ago where some halibut shares are selling for $28 a pound,” Bowen said.
Black cod (sablefish) shares have been trading at $22 per pound, and as high as $24 in Southeast and the Central Gulf; the low is $3 per pound in the Bering Sea. Bowen and Osborn said there is a lot of interest in quota shares for both fish, but they are pricey and hard to find.
“If anyone is looking for any good deals on halibut or black cod quota, I’m not aware of any. It’s all expensive,” Bowen said.
The same holds true for catch shares of Bering Sea crab.
“Crab quota sales move in fits and starts depending on dock prices, but there is not much available,” Jeff Osborn said.
Snow crab shares are priced around $10 per pound for vessel owners; and in the $25 range or higher for red king crab. Prices are lower for crew shares, Osborn said, and financing has not been a problem.
“We went a long time without any interest from crew, but recently we have had more people looking for crew shares,” he said. “Availability is a bit of a problem.”
The amount of catch shares now held by new entrant crew members is almost 12 percent for both red king crab and snow crab, according to federal data.
The crab catch share plan in the Bering Sea is set for a five-year review by the North Pacific Council in December, and that has given pause to potential purchasers.
“The uncertainty and concern seem to have waned a bit, but it is definitely in the back of people’s minds,” Osborn said.
Alaska shrimpers are now eligible for benefits to help them compete with the flood of foreign imports coming primarily from shrimp farms in Asia.
“They have been impacted by the shrimp from foreign countries and it has reduced the prices they are getting for their product. So Alaska shrimpers are eligible to receive some assistance from the Dept. of Agriculture,” said Danny Consenstein, director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Palmer.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance funds stem from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program provides cash and technical training; in this case, to help Alaska shrimpers better organize their businesses.
The TAA benefits are not based on landings and everyone will be eligible for the same amounts of cash: $4,000 to develop a draft business plan, followed by $8,000 to implement a more detailed, long-term plan which can include marketing and promotions.
Consenstein said eligibility for the TAA program is quite easy. “You have to self-certify that you have fished shrimp in the year 2008, and then show you have fished in one of the prior three years,” he explained.
Alaska has between 100-300 shrimpers, mostly in Southeast Alaska, who fish with pots or beam trawls for spot prawns, coonstripe, sidestripe and pink shrimp.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for them to make their business a lot more efficient, and devise a long-term business plan to be more successful in the future,” Consenstein said.
Deadline to apply is Dec. 23. Contact the Farm Service Agency at 907-761-7738. http://www.fas.usda.gov/itp/taa/taa.asp
Recommendations for 2011 catch quotas suggest nice increases for groundfish, which make up the bulk of Alaska’s fisheries by volume and value. Nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s seafood landings are caught in federal waters, meaning from three to 200 miles from shore.
For Alaska pollock — which accounts for one-third of total U.S. fish landings — the Bering Sea catch could increase to 1.1 million metric tons, up from 813,000 metric tons. For pollock in the Gulf of Alaska, a catch of nearly 100,000 metric tons is an increase of 25 percent.
Cod catches in both regions continue an upward trend; for the Bering Sea, cod is pegged at nearly 170,000 metric tons, up about 40,000. For the Gulf, next year’s cod take of nearly 60,000 metric tons is an increase of 14,000 over the 2010 catch.
Conversely, sablefish (black cod) numbers remain on a downward trend for both regions: for the Gulf, a recommended catch of 9,300 metric tons is down slightly, as is the Bering Sea catch of about 5,000 metric tons. Final catch limits will be decided by the North Pacific Management Council in December.
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