Fewer Alaska fishermen are going after halibut and sablefish, based on the declining number of bills being sent out to those holding quota shares of the catch.

Eighteen hundred invoices went out to fishermen this month, down 30 from last year, and down from nearly 2,000 in 2015.

The bills, paid since the year 2000, are a fee for fisheries monitoring and enforcement based on dock prices and averaged across the state. This year the fee was 3% and yielded $4.5 million in recovery costs.

A sinking sablefish market brought down the value of the two fisheries, despite an uptick for halibut.

“The combined value of the halibut and sablefish fisheries this year was $150 million, which reflects a 7% decrease of last year’s value of $161 million.”

Carl Greene is Cost Recovery Fee Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.

The sablefish market is backlogged with lots of less desirable small fish and dock prices took a nosedive.

“The sablefish dock prices were down about 20% to average $2.96 down from $3.68 in 2018.”

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A 2019 Alaska sablefish catch of 21.2 million pounds was valued at nearly $62.7 million.

Conversely, the value of the halibut fishery was up 3% and prices remained stable –

“And it was mainly due to the volume of the fishery – the change in pounds went up by 4% this year. The halibut dock price held stable. It was $5.30 vs $5.35 for 2018.”    

Alaska longliners landed about 16.5 million pounds of halibut during the eight month fishery valued at over $87 million.

The Bering Sea crab fisheries also operate under a catch share system and since 2000 have chipped in for coverage costs.

The 2018/2019 season was valued at $178 million for 17 co-op groups, a $14 million increase. Greene says crabbers paid just under two percent for fishery coverages yielding a relatively flat rate of $3 million.

Starting in 2016, large boats fishing for groundfish in the Bering Sea, along with vessels in the Western Alaska CDQ program, began paying less than one percent to cover about $2 million in enforcement costs.

“The costs to enforce those fisheries is much less relative to the total value of the fishery. So it’s been under one percent since we started the program in 2016. There’s a lot fewer boats and entities to monitor and enforce the fisheries act.”