More halibut from Atlantic Canada and a shift in consumer preferences are two new drivers in the halibut market.

The Pacific fishery opened on March 15 to prices similar to last year and there they’ve pretty much stayed — in the $6 per pound range to fishermen on the Alaska mainland; $5.50 to $6 in Southeast and lower at Kodiak in the $4.75 to $5.25 range.

A major Kodiak buyer said the market is favorable for fish headed to fresh markets, but that won’t absorb all of the halibut coming out of Alaska.

                           March 28-30 in Kodiak

Contrary to preseason reports, just about every major packer is sitting on frozen inventory from last year, “a halibut hangover” he called it, and buyers will be cautious about freezing more.

The market for frozen halibut is really changing, he added.

“Two of the largest buyers which had the old steaking program where they’d buy an 80 or 100 pounder, that’s just completely going away. It’s been kind of a gradual transition,” he said, adding that it’s really, really, really tough to move frozen, headed and gutted halibut even in the smaller sizes.

What consumers want now, he said, is the convenience of vacuum packed halibut fillets or chunks, either fresh or frozen.

Another buyer agreed that the biggest hurt in Alaska’s halibut market right now comes from increasing competition from eastern Canada, whose fishery runs for all but two weeks out of the year near Christmas. The fish are distributed widely throughout the northern Atlantic and caught off of Newfoundland, Labrador and Nova Scotia.

The flood of fish has caused a disruption that seemed to come out of nowhere, he said, and it could put more than 10 million pounds into the U.S. market this year. That compares to 300-400,000 pounds just six years ago.

Overall, the early pace of Alaska’s halibut fishery is off from past years, with deliveries down by about a third.  So far this week 81 landings of less than half a million pounds had crossed the Alaska docks, mostly at Seward and Kodiak.

Alaska longliners can catch 17.7 million pounds of halibut through November 14.

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