March 22, 2013
This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Halibut opens tomorrow to little fanfare. More after this –
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It’s unusually quiet along the waterfront as the halibut fishery gets underway on Saturday. Most of the first fish landed goes to Homer, Kodiak and Petersburg and reports by processors say there isn’t the usual chatter and they don’t have a feel for what’s going to happen yet with prices.
Lots of halibut remains in the freezers and some major processors have unloaded the high priced fish at a loss. In short, no one appears very excited – catch quotas have been slashed again this year, the fleet is unhappy about having onboard observers for the first time, and processors are not getting much interest from buyers – many of whom are not that interested anymore due to the exorbitant prices.
The term heard a lot is ‘halibut fatigue’ – the high prices have shrunk processors’ margins to next to nothing and it’s a fight to push the fish onto people and demand the prices they are having to pay. “Halibut is just not fun anymore,” said a major Southeast processor.
Last year’s prices started out at near $6.00 a pound for larger sizes, and at $7 in Southeast. Shortly after they dropped by 70 cents and held fairly stable all season. Coast wide catch limits have been slashed by nearly 70 percent over the past few years to protect the slow growing halibut stocks. Alaska’s share of the halibut this year is 23 million pounds, down 2.5 million pounds from last year.
Every region except for Southeast is again dealing with big cuts, and the outlook for at least the near future is bleak. NOAA/Alaska director Jim Balsiger who is also a member of the International Pacific Halibut Commission put the industry on notice in January –
Cut: “We made a small step in a conservation direction this year and reduced the catch by some 2 ¼ million pounds – but I don’t think it is likely that we will be able to retain those small steps towards conservation into the future,” Balsiger said. “The likely risk in a one year period with these long lived animals is not that great, but in multiple years that risk gets greater. So we have some difficult years ahead of us.”
The halibut fishery runs through November 7th. Learn more about halibut next month at ComFish www.comfishalaska.com .
Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods. Ocean Beauty has contributed over 10 million meals to the U.S. Food Bank network, and is committed to ending hunger in America. Check out Ocean Beauty’s new website at www.oceanbeauty.com