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PUBLISHED: 2:05 PM on Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Demand for halibut continues to grow
Fish Factor
It used to be that halibut prices would drop each summer when other fisheries got underway. But no longer - prices for halibut started off in early March well over three dollars a pound in most ports - and there they've remained.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute reports halibut prices remain at or above $3.50 per pound for most ports.

Landings are also up around the state. Halibut landings in the four weeks between May 8 and June 7 exceeded the previous three-year average by 1.3 million pounds or roughly 13 percent.

This suggests that demand for halibut continues to grow-with prices holding strong despite the significant increase in supply.

Homer leads all other ports for halibut landings, followed by Seward and Kodiak which are neck-and-neck at the number 2 and number 3 spots. Sitka and Juneau round out the top five ports.

As of June 15, Homer saw 4.4 million pounds of halibut cross its dock. Seward had 3.8 million pounds delivered, followed by Kodiak with 3.75 million pounds.

As of mid-June 44 percent of the available halibut allocation was landed. Nearly 30 million more pounds remains on the table with five months left in the fishery.

Cod prices could jump

Alaska boasts one of the world's most abundant cod fisheries and this year nearly 500 million pounds will be harvested from the Bering Sea. Another 150-million pounds will be added from the Gulf of Alaska.

As with its other fish, Alaska cod competes in a global market. What is bad news for other parts of the world could be good news for Alaska fishers. Industry reports are already predicting higher prices for the cod, the world's most popular fish, because of crashing stocks in the Barents Sea.

The Barents is an extremely deep part of the Arctic Ocean located north of Norway and the Russian far west. Wikipedia.com reports that it was named for the Dutch Navigator Willem Barents. The southern half of the sea remains ice free in winter and is the location of the Russian port of Murmansk which was the home of the Soviet's submarine fleet during the Cold War and is the headquarters for Russians Northern Fleet today. The Barents Sea is a popular location for action in techno-thriller novels in part because of the Russian fleet, but also because it is said to be a dumping ground for old Soviet nuclear waste.

Thanks to the warm waters of the North Atlantic drift, the Barents is an amazingly productive region in terms of fisheries. It is one of the world's largest cod sources providing a vital part of both Norway's and Russia's fish supply.

Intrafish reports that the cod quota in the Barents Sea could be cut by roughly one third next year. International managers from 19 countries are recommending that Barents Sea cod, fished mainly by Norway and Russia, be slashed by roughly one-third to 680 million pounds-a drop of 356 million from this year.

Managers say one of the biggest problems is illegal fishing activity, estimated at one quarter of the total catch. Barents Sea cod accounts for most of the cod used in Europe. Some buyers will switch to other whitefish like pollock, but cod's strong tradition means many will buy it no matter what the price.

In other cod news

Fishermen in Newfoundland will be allowed to catch cod for the first time in three years. The catch limit there is just five million pounds. Seafood.com says that region used to average catches of nearly 600 million pounds in the 1980's. The cod crash cost more than 30-thousand people their jobs, the largest mass layoff in Canada's history.

Watch for farmed cod to soon be filling some of the market demand for the world's most popular fish. Farmed production in Norway, for example, is pegged at 26 million pounds this year. Industry watchers predict that in just ten years world farmed cod production could top 440 million pounds.

Norway has been experimenting with farming codfish since the 1980's, and now they are pulling out all stops. Intrafish reports that last year, farmed cod production in Norway topped 13 million pounds, a figure that is projected to double this year. Norway wants to become the world leader in cod farming and major producers are gathering capital to expand fast.

Earlier this month, Grieg Company in Bergen, Norway generated 26 million dollars in a first initial public stock offering to back cod farming. Scotland is also experimenting with large scale organic cod farming. Closer to home, Cooke Aquaculture has 70-thousand codfish swimming in sea cages off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada. According to the local Telegraph Journal Cooke workers have applied some salmon know how to cod, but they've found that the fish behave and grow differently. Cod are said to be a more gentle fish and eat more slowly.

Cooke's market size cod weigh in at an average of about five pounds after two years. Cooke Aquaculture introduced its first significant farmed cod harvest last month at the International Boston Seafood Show.

Seafood Trends

The newsletter is once again available after a brief halt in publication while its editor and publisher pursued a new opportunity outside the fishing industry. After a six month break long-time editor and publisher, Ken Talley, decided fish slime flows in his blood and he returned to his position.

"I'm excited to be back," said Talley in a press release about his brief foray outside the fishing industry. "Long story short, it just didn't work out."

But the break was beneficial in many ways. Talley said his time away gave him a better appreciation of the seafood industry and what fun it is to report and write about the seafood market.

The twice-monthly Seafood Trend fills a niche in the industry providing information on supply and demand for major fish species in Alaska as well as other regions of the country.

For more information, send an e-mail to seafoodtrend@aol.com.

Maggie Wall is an award winning Kodiak journalist filling in for the vacationing Laine Welch. She can be reached at magpie@ptialaska.net.


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