Right after the yearly halibut catch limits are announced each January, brokers are usually busy with buying, selling and transferring shares of the catch. But it’s been slow going so far, even with slight harvest increases in almost all Alaska fishing areas for the first time in nearly a decade. The buyers are there – it’s the sellers that are scarce.
“There’s less of a rush this year, but there are less quota shares available,” said Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits at Petersburg. “We’ve had some good sales in Southeast (2C), and we’re seeing very strong interest for halibut quota pretty much across the board. But shares for both halibut and sablefish are practically non-existent in the Central Gulf. I think the increases in both areas and the higher prices might bring out some more sellers, and of course, the buyers are sitting there waiting.”
Last year was one of the busiest years ever for Alaska brokers who help fishermen buy, sell and trade fishing permits and quota shares.
“I was happy to see such a good mix of permits we were selling – it wasn’t just one thing,” said Olivia Olsen of Alaska Quota and Permits in Petersburg. “We had many Dungeness crab permits, charter halibut permits, salmon and shrimp permits, sea cucumbers and whatever IFQs we could find.”
Salmon permit sales peak from March through May, and early indicators point to lower salmon prices this year in a plentiful market. A strong U.S. dollar against the Yen, Euro and other currencies also makes it more expensive for foreign customers to buy Alaska salmon. At the same time, record numbers of cheaper, farmed salmon continue to flood into the U.S. from Norway and Chile.
Lovers choose lobster as the top Valentine’s Day dish to share with that special someone. Crab legs and shrimp also get the nod as “romantic meals” on Feb. 14 — one of the busiest dining-out days for U.S. restaurants.
In a national survey by Harris Interactive, chefs called lobster an “exotic delicacy that results in an intimate moment, because it is hand-held and shareable.” In fact, respondents called all shellfish “a catalyst for connection like no other food.”
The links between seafood and love have a long history, including the belief that oysters enhance male desire and performance.
Freezer displays at Walmart Superstores in Alaska and Washington now include a new lineup of 14 Alaska seafood items. The world’s largest grocer announced the expanded commitment to Alaska seafood last week.
“We are so proud to bring these to our customers, and we also know how important it is to local fishermen and folks across the state,” said John Forrest Ales, Director of Corporate Communications for Walmart.
The need for a clear “fish first” policy in Alaska tops the list of priorities compiled by the Fisheries Transition Team for Governor Bill Walker. The group also stated that, “fish and fishermen in Alaska are viewed as barriers to development,” and that there is “irreplaceable optimism” that fish can coexist with development at any scale.
Fisheries was just one of the topics 250 Alaskans brainstormed about in 17 teams that newly elected Walker convened in late November. Their task was to identify the top five priorities in diverse categories, as well as the barriers to success and ways to overcome them. Their reports were released to the public last week.
The 25-member fisheries team, which included commercial, sport, subsistence and science stakeholders, strongly recommended re-enacting the Coastal Zone Management Program in its “fish first” priority list. They also said no significant loss of fish habitat should knowingly be permitted in the state.
It’s a good strategy, but he admits there are many factors over which the industry has no control, including currency exchanges, international global politics and what not.
“But the whole idea of this marketing operation is to buffer that and to — at all times — have a preference for Alaska out there,” Fick said. Referring to the pink campaign that has kept sales steady, he added: “All of the data coming back indicates it’s working pretty well.”
Alaska seafood marketers are facing some strong headwinds heading into 2015, notably, for sockeye salmon and crab.
Snow crab is Alaska’s largest crab fishery, underway now in the Bering Sea. The fleet has a slightly increased 61 million-pound catch quota; boats also are tapping on a hefty bairdi Tanner crab catch, the larger cousin of snow crab.
A 25 percent increase in snow crab, the unexpected 15 million pound Tanner fishery, a weak Japanese yen, plus several million pounds of Russian snow crab from a new fishery in the Barents Sea, (not to mention all the pirated crab) – all are combining to give buyers plenty of choices, said market expert John Sackton.
Alaska still has its share of naysayers who will quibble about the seafood industry’s importance to our great state. They dismiss the fact that fishing was Alaska’s first industry and was fish that spawned the push to statehood.
“The canned salmon plants started in the 1870s and by the early 20th century, canned salmon was the largest industry and generated 80% of the territorial tax revenues. It had a position in the state economy that oil enjoys today,” said fisheries historian Bob King.
Salmon will always be the heart of Alaska’s fisheries, and that’s why most people think of summer as the fishing season. But that’s not the case.
The heart of winter is when Alaska’s largest fisheries get underway each year.
On January first, hundreds of boats with hook and line gear or pots begin plying the waters of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska for Pacific cod, rockfish and other groundfish. Then on January 20th trawlers take to the seas to target Alaska pollock, the world’s largest food fishery with annual harvests topping three billion pounds.
Alaska seafood innovators are getting serious about ‘head to tail/inside and out’ usages of fish parts, and they see gold in all that gurry that ends up on cutting line floors.
Fish oils, pet treats, animal feeds, gelatins, fish scales that put the shimmer in nail polish – “almost anything that can be made out of seafood byproducts has increased in value tremendously in the last few years,” said Peter Bechtel, a US Dept. of Agriculture researcher formerly at the University of Alaska.
In today’s climate of planet consciousness “co-products” is the place to be, Bechtel added.