The Pacific halibut fishery opens tomorrow/Saturday and increased catches combined with a cautiously optimistic outlook for the near future have fanned interest in buying shares of the fish.

Total halibut removals for 2021 were increased by 6.5% to 39 million pounds for all users and as bycatch in fisheries of the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. That is higher than the total take for the past three years. Doug Bowen runs Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer

“I think people are, first of all, thrilled to see the tide turn in these catch limits as most areas have been declining for probably the past 15 years. Hopefully, we’ve rounded the corner and we’ll see increases, maybe not as high as they were  15 years ago, but at least turn around and start seeing some increases for the next few years. And  people are very hopeful and very happy to see they’re going to get some more pounds on their permits this year.”  

Seafood Auction

For commercial halibut fishermen, the catch limit of 25.7 million pounds is an increase of 2.6 million pounds over 2020.

Alaska’s roughly 2,000 fishermen get the largest chunk at 19.6 million pounds, and all regions except for the Bering Sea will see increased catches.

Bowen added the optimism is pushing up prices for halibut quota shares.

“People have more confidence in the resource and are hoping to get a good ex-vessel  price. So yeah, we’re seeing more demand. And that is pushing the prices up a bit. Certainly, nowhere near the levels they were a few years ago.”  

In 2017, for example, Central Gulf quota shares at $65 per pound now are closer to $45. At Southeast quota that topped $70 are now listed in the $45 to high $50 range per pound.

What the fish fetches at the docks is another part of the equation. Besides market hits from the Covid pandemic, Alaska faces increased competition from eastern Canada, Russia and even farmed halibut from Norway.

“Even with all that, we still saw pretty decent ex-vessel prices last year, I think in Homer we probably averaged $4.50 a pound for the whole season and considering the pandemic and the economy and all that, that was probably a pretty good price. And we’re hoping to see a good price again this year.”

Data show the dock price for Alaska halibut in 2020 averaged $4 per pound compared to $5.30 in 2019.

The Pacific halibut fishery also was extended by one month and will run from March 6 to December 7.

A breakdown in commercial catches provided by Alaska Boats and Permits shows that at Southeast, Area 2C, a catch of 3.53 million pounds is an increase of just over 3.5%.

The Central Gulf, Area 3A, is Alaska’s biggest halibut fishing hole and gets just under 9 million pounds, a nearly 27% increase over last year.

The Western Gulf, Area 3B, will have just under three million pounds, a 6.22% increase.

For the Aleutian Islands region of 4A, a catch limit of 1.66 million pounds is a 17.73% increase. The 4B region of the Aleutians at 1.23 million pounds is more than an 11.8% increase.

The Bering Sea catch in Area 4CDE at just under 1.7 million pounds is a drop of nearly 3.5%.

Just over 6.8 million pounds will go to the coast wide recreational sector.

A total of 6.29 million pounds of halibut is allowed to be taken as “discard mortality” from all regions combined.