Farmed halibut from Norway                                   Credit: Bill Sullivan

 

Little demand coupled with transportation logjams in many regions has put a damper on the start of Alaska’s halibut fishery, although starting prices were much higher than last year.

Pacific halibut opened on March 6 and only 43 landings at Southeast and 33 from the Central Gulf were made through the first week and a half, totaling less than 338,000 pounds.

Early prices at Sitka and Juneau that have daily air service were reported at $5.75 straight, up by one dollar per pound from last year.

No ferry service and high costs for airfreight again bit into buying at nearly all other Southeast ports and many aren’t planning on buying until April or even May.

Fishermen delivering to Homer were paid $5.50 a pound, up by more than a dollar from 2020. Others on the Kenai Peninsula were paying $5.25 to $5.45 for 10/20s and slightly more for larger fish.

Prices typically start off high and then drop by quite a bit as the fishery progresses, picking up again at the end of the season.

Except for small amounts bought on consignment for the fresh market, no halibut sales were reported yet at Kodiak with major processors also waiting to buy into April or later.

Halibut from Alaska also is getting hit hard from fish from Eastern Canada, mostly from waters off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with one major buyer saying that region is now in the “front seat” for market sales.

Federal trade data show that last year over 10.5 million pounds of Atlantic halibut were imported to the US from Eastern Canada, valued at $70.2 million. Another 1.5 million pounds of Pacific halibut came into the US from British Columbia valued at $22 million.

Pacific halibut also is feeling a pinch from fresh farmed halibut from Norway. Last year about one million pounds was imported to the US, valued at $6.3 million.

Also, halibut caught by Russian fleets and processed into frozen fillets in China is making US market inroads and underselling all others. It’s trickier to track but in 2019 the imports totaled two million pounds, valued at nearly $7 million.

The Pacific halibut fishery was extended by one month this year and will run through December 7.

(Thanks to the assist from Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer.)

 

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