Story last updated at 1/14/2009 - 11:14 am
Halibut managers and industry stakeholders meet this week in Vancouver, B.C. to decide on catch limits for this year's upcoming fishery, which usually begins in early March. Harvesters are bracing for a 10 percent coast-wide reduction to 54 million pounds, covering fishing grounds from the West Coast and British Columbia to the farthest reaches Bering Sea.
Alaska always gets the lion's share of the halibut catch and will get 46 million pounds of the fish, if the International Pacific Halibut Commission goes along with the scientists' recommendations. That's down from 50 million pounds last year. Southeast Alaska fishermen would see the biggest hit - a catch of just 4.5 million pounds is a drop of nearly 30 percent for the second year in a row.
The IPHC will also consider several new management proposals - one requests the continued use of electric or electric assisted sport fishing reels to benefit older or disabled anglers, especially in deeper waters. It says not doing so discriminates against people with physical limitations.
Two proposals ask for clarifications of filleting sport caught halibut at sea. Another asks that qualified harvesters be allowed to retain halibut taken in pots along with sablefish in area of the Bering Sea. Pots are frequently used by fishermen instead of hook and line gear to prevent killer whales from stealing the sablefish, but current rules demand that all halibut taken as bycatch in the pots must be discarded. The halibut can't be safely returned to the sea, the proposal states, because the whales gather to quickly gobble them up.
Other proposals ask that size limits for halibut be eliminated, and for the state of Alaska to develop a harvest tag program for all recreational anglers to get more accurate counts of their catches.
The IPHC meets January 13-16 in Vancouver. Get more information at www.iphc.washington.edu.
Slow start for snow crab
The Bering Sea snow crab fishery officially opens in mid-October but it doesn't really get going until mid-January. Low cod prices were expected to prompt more boats to target snow crab during the early weeks of the season. But encroaching sea ice is getting things off to a slow start all 'round, said state fishery manager Forrest Bowers in Dutch Harbor.
"There are 39 vessels registered for the snow crab fishery and some people that normally fish cod are on the fence about whether to fish cod or crab. Another part of the equation is that there is quite a bit of sea ice forming in the northern Bering Sea and ice in St. Paul harbor. So that is another factor that is influencing decisions by fishermen," Bowers said.
The new 'rationalized' quota share management plan requires that a portion of all deliveries must be made in specific regions, and the bulk of the northern crab catch is earmarked for St. Paul. Bowers said the longer season means fishermen aren't forced to compete with the sea ice that is now plugging the harbor.
"The season runs from Oct. 15 through May," Bowers said, "so there is ample opportunity to harvest the crab and deliver in the north region when weather and ice conditions allow for it."
Crabbers and most processors settled on a base price of $1.40/lb, down from an average $1.58/lb last season. The snow crab market is weaker this year, said Greg White, a negotiator for the crabbers' Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents about 70 percent of the king and snow crab caught in the Bering Sea. White added that snow crab prices seem to move on a three year cycle.
"What happens is that it gets a little too expensive, and then retailers stop promoting it as a special item," White explained. "Then inventories build up and prices start dropping because people need to move the crab, and eventually it gets to a level where it's again capable of being promoted effectively at the retail level. Then demand goes up, inventories fall, and prices eventually increase. So there is a recurring cycle that usually plays out over a three year period."
Meanwhile, Forrest Bowers said up to 70 vessels will likely fish for snow crab and boats are leaving Dutch Harbor every day. The total catch quota is 58 million pounds, a decrease of 7 percent.
Economics of fishing
The U.S. commercial fishing industry is way ahead of sports angling in terms of the revenues and jobs it generates. That's from a new, user friendly report just released by NOAA Fisheries that breaks down incomes, jobs, landings and all kinds of data for each coastal state through 2006.
A glance at "Fisheries Economics of the U.S." shows that the seafood industry, including harvesters, processors and sellers, generated $103 billion in sales in 2006, $44 billion in income and 1.5 million jobs.
That same year recreational fishing generated $82 billion in sales, $24 billion in income and 534,000 jobs. Halibut was the most popular fish to catch by sports anglers, followed by coho salmon.
The report says from 1997-2006 prices paid to Alaska fishermen increased 93% for cod, 72% for halibut and 58% for rockfish. In contrast, prices for herring decreased 45% and 29% for salmon. Alaska pollock contributed 60% of the state's total landings, far more than any other species.
Alaska ranked 5th for total commercial seafood sales value at $3 billion, following California ($9.8 billion), Florida ($5.2 billion), Massachusetts ($4.4 billion), and Washington ($3.8 billion).
The most commercial fishing jobs were generated in California (179,000), Florida (103,000), Massachusetts (83,000), Washington (75,000) and Texas (47,000). Recreational fishing generated its highest economic effect in sales and jobs in Florida, Texas, California, North Carolina and Lousiana.
In all, commercial and recreational fishing in the U.S. generated more than $185 billion in sales and provided over two million jobs.
The report includes data on management plans, buybacks, price trends, even eco-labeling programs. It is the first in a new series designed to give the public better access to fisheries information. Next up is a report on U.S. Fishing Communities. Find the economics report at http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st5/index.html
Madonna has introduced more salmon into her diet to counteract the aging process.
The British newspaper Mirror reports that instead of detoxing, the 50 year old pop star will "retox" by increasing her cardio-intensive gym regime along with a diet overhaul. Madonna believes salmon has "age-defying properties" the Mirror said, and "her aim is to knock 12 years off her appearance."
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around Alaska. Welch lives in Kodiak.