An Alaska  black cod chomped on by a sperm whale                   Credit:  SEASWAP

As with halibut IFQs, quota shares of sablefish, or black cod, also have slumped in value, in some cases by 40 percent.

“Certainly in the Central Gulf folks had tremendous difficulty getting their quota caught last year. With the whale depredation and a lot of little fish bringing down the average price of the load.  And we’re also seeing the exvessel prices across the board are down this year.”

Doug Bowen runs Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer.

“So we’re seeing a pretty dramatic drop in IFQ prices for Central Gulf. Last year about this time unblocked shares were trading for about $28 a pound, they’re now selling for $17 a pound. A drop of $11 in a year is pretty significant.”

The sablefish stocks are soaring but the bulk of the pack is small.  Black cod is one of Alaska’s priciest catches, but buyers want fish weighing five pounds or more, with 7-ups the most highly prized.

Those sizes are fetching $6.50 to $7.50 per pound at the docks.

A back log in Japanese freezers, where most of the fish is sold, also has tamped down prices. A bigger problem — whales stealing sablefish off longline hooks. Olivia Olsen is with Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg –

 “The smaller fish – yes, definitely there was a problem. A lot of guys were not making any profit because they were spending too much time trying to catch them. The whales were causing havoc with them trying to get them on board and when they did they were so small they weren’t making expenses.”

Olsen says it’s a good time to buy if you can afford to wait on a good return.

“In the next four years or so things should be moving up in quota and the size of the fish. So it’s a good time to buy in when things are low. But they’re going to have to be able to carry it for a couple of years before they’re going to come out ahead on the black cod.”

Overall, Olsen calls the black cod quota outlook “wait and see.”

“I think they feel really good about the abundance and they know that somebody has got to come up with some better ideas for the whales because they are getting smarter and eating more for the fish. So there’s a couple of obstacles to overcome there but in general I think everyone is confident that they will come out ahead of the game there. Just need a little more input into how to handle the problem we’re having with the whales and sit back and wait for those fish to grow bigger.”

Alaska longliners can catch 26 million pounds of sablefish this year.