Story last updated at 5/23/2012 - 11:52 am
The value of Alaska fishing permits has see-sawed over the past year with Cook Inlet prices heading upwards and Bristol Bay on the down side.
"Cook Inlet had a really good year last year, and they're expecting another strong fishery this summer. Salmon drift permits have taken off with sales made at $80,000 compared to around $50,000 last year," said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer
Prices have headed the other way in Bristol Bay.
"The Bay permits, are not so hot. They ran way up last year on expectations of good fish numbers and a good price, but it didn't really pan out the way folks were hoping it would," Bowen said, adding that Bristol Bay drift permits that fetched $165,000 right before last season are now selling for $110,000-$115,000.
Elsewhere, Prince William Sound seine permits are selling at $172,000, and drift permits at Copper River are trading at around $180,000 with strong demand. Bowen said there's been little sales action at the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik and Kodiak, where seine permits are at $40,000.
Brokers are busy in Southeast, says Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. Hand and power trolls have been in demand all year with power permits jumping from $33,000-$40,000. Southeast seine permits are wanted but none are available due to the recent buyback and reorganization of the seine fleet, and gillnet permits have slacked off at around $85,000.
Olsen said interest has really picked up for Dungeness permits as well as for other crab fisheries,
"There's really good interest in red king and Tanner crab permits for the last two years, and those had been very slow," she said. "Stand alone permits for red king crab are at about $60,000-$65,000 and they are hard to come by and very few. Tanners are at $160,000-$175,000. A full package deal for red, brown, blue king crab and Tanner runs about $200,000. There are only two on the market and there's lots of interest."
Also hard to come by are Southeast dive permits - sea cucumbers have jumped from $11,000 in January to $19,000 now, "and people would pay more" Olsen said. Permits for geoduck clams are averaging $88,000.
While permit values are up and down, prices for shares of halibut and sablefish (black cod) continue to climb but the market is very tight with little sales action.
"Only small amounts are available so it has pushed the price up," said Olsen. Halibut quota in Southeast is in the $35-$39 range depending on the amounts and category, sand has gone as high as $43 per share; Southeast black cod shares are fetching about $35, compared to $22-$32 last year.
Whereas the black cod stocks have ticked upwards along with prices, Bowen said holders of halibut quota shares are "quite depressed over all the cuts over the past few years and the general feeling that the stocks haven't been managed as well as they could have been and what that means for the future. There is a lot of worry, and rightly so."
"If you're a buyer and you're looking at recent trends, do you really want to spend $37 to buy into something that you're concerned could be cut again and significantly next year? For the sellers they are trying to figure out if they should sell or hold on. There is so much uncertainty," Bowen said.
Halibut managers need some fixin' - Major changes are recommended for managers that oversee Pacific halibut fisheries and being more open to the public tops the list.
For the past year the International Pacific Halibut Commission underwent an extensive performance review by CONCUR, Inc., a San Francisco-based consulting firm specializing in complex natural resources and infrastructure disputes. The IPHC is the world's oldest regional fisheries management organization, set by a US/Canada treaty convention in 1923. The group has six commissioners, three each from the U.S. and Canada.
While it has been largely successful at managing the halibut stocks through surveys, modeling and conservative catch limits, CONCUR said the way the IPHC operates is outdated and out of touch with most stakeholders.
"It's a 19th century model that's not been allowed to evolve using present-day processes," said one respondent.
Some commenters also view IPHC staff as too "ivory tower" and too heavily preoccupied with modeled results at the expense of valuing observations from the field.
Trust with the IPHC is at an ebb, the review said, especially among Canadians and many other stakeholders who are frustrated with the decades-long failure by U.S. managers to address trawl halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska.
The performance review identifies 12 steps the IPHC can take to improve its governance and build on its good work to date.
Topping the list was conducting more deliberations in public instead of behind closed doors,
"It's a bit of a black box," said one comment, noting that the Commission doesn't even put out minutes summarizing its executive session deliberations.
Another recommendation is to use a set of practices and protocols for halibut meetings. Other recommendations include expanding the Commission to represent more user interests and to elevate the importance of Tribes and First Nations, leadership at the Commissioner level, and improving public communications.
The CONCUR report also says the IPHC staff is "well led" and its scientists are skilled and experienced.
You can comment on the IPHC's performance through June 10 via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, two U.S. seats are up for new Commission members. Public comments will be taken on 10 nominees until May 25. http://www.iphc.int/
Fish watch - The fish beat the boats last week to Alaska's biggest sac roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay, where the forecast calls for 21,622 short tons. Depending on its quality, the roe herring should meet a market eager for fish. Catches came up way short in San Francisco, British Columbia, and Sitka - where seiners took less than half of the nearly 29,000 ton harvest. That has Sitka prices soaring, according to Seafood.com, with first contracts in the range of $1,500 per ton, more than double last year. The shortage has combined with strong demand for herring processing in China. Reports from Japan, where all the roe ends up, say the dramatically cheap prices in past years has resulted in a huge expansion of new customers.
Speaking of shortfalls: Alaska salmon fishermen won't face competition this summer from sockeyes at British Columbia's Fraser River. Managers say the run there is expected to be so weak a commercial fishery is unlikely. And with near record ice and snow packs still to melt, they are concerned that the returning reds will struggle to get upstream against strong freshets in the Fraser River.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.