Fishing permit costs: Inlet up, Bristol Bay down

Fisheries
By LAINE WELCH
May 19, 2012 

The value of Alaska fishing permits has seesawed over the past year. Cook Inlet prices have gone up, while Bristol Bay prices have fallen.

"Cook Inlet had a really good year last year and they're expecting another strong fishery this summer. Salmon drift permits have taken off with sales at $80,000, compared to about $50,000 last year," reported Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer.

In Bristol Bay, the cost of permits ran up last year on expectations of a strong run and good prices but it didn't pan out that way, Bowen said. Bristol Bay drift permits that sold for $165,000 right before last season are selling for $115,000 or less.

Elsewhere, Prince William Sound seine permits are selling for $172,000. Drift permits at Copper River are going for $180,000 and demand for them is strong.

Bowen said there's been little trade in the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik and Kodiak fisheries, where seine permits sell for about $40,000.

Brokers are busy in Southeast, said Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. Southeast seine permits are in demand but unavailable because of a recent permit buyback program and reorganization of the fleet. Demand for gillnet permits has slacked off at about $85,000.

Olsen said interest in permits has really picked up for Dungeness and other crab fisheries.

"There's really good interest in red king and Tanner crab permits for the last two years and those had been very slow," she said. "Standalone permits for red king crab are at about $60,000 to $65,000 and they are hard to come by ... Tanners are at $160,000 to $175,000. A full package deal for red, brown, blue king crab and Tanner runs about $200,000. There are only two on the market and there's lots of interest."

Also in short supply are Southeast dive permits -- sea cucumbers have jumped from $11,000 in January to $19,000 now, "and people would pay more," Olsen said. Permits for geoduck clams are averaging $88,000.

While permit values rise and fall, prices for shares of halibut and sablefish (black cod) continue to climb, though the market is tight and there have been few sales.

"Only small amounts are available so it has pushed the price up," said Olsen. Halibut quota in Southeast is in the $35 to $39 range, depending on the amounts and category, and has gone as high as $43 a share. Southeast black cod shares are fetching about $35, compared to $22 to $32 last year.

While black cod stocks have ticked upward along with prices, Bowen said holders of halibut quota shares are "quite depressed over all the cuts over the past few years and the general feeling that the stocks haven't been managed as well as they could have been and what that means for the future. There is a lot of worry, and rightly so."

"If you're a buyer and you're looking at recent trends, do you really want to spend $37 to buy into something that you're concerned could be cut again and significantly next year? For the sellers, they are trying to figure out if they should sell or hold on. There is so much uncertainty," Bowen said.

Halibut managers need fixin'

Major changes have been recommended for the managers overseeing Pacific halibut fisheries. For the past year, the International Pacific Halibut Commission has undergone an extensive performance review by CONCUR Inc., a San Francisco-based consulting firm specializing in complex natural resources and infrastructure disputes.

The halibut commission is the world's oldest regional fisheries management organization, established by U.S.-Canada treaty in 1923. The group has six commissioners, three each from the U.S. and Canada.

While it has been largely successful at managing halibut through surveys, population modeling and conservative catch limits, CONCUR said the way the commission operates is outdated and out of touch with most stakeholders.

"It's a 19th century model that's not been allowed to evolve using present-day processes," said one.

Others said they view commission staff as too "ivory tower" and too heavily influenced by computer modeling while ignoring observations from the field.

Trust in the commission is at an ebb, the review said, especially among Canadians and other stakeholders frustrated with a decades-long failure by U.S. managers to address halibut bycatch by the trawl fleet in the Gulf of Alaska.

The performance review identifies 12 steps the commission should take to improve its governance and build on its good work to date.

Topping the list was conducting more deliberations in public rather than behind closed doors.

"It's a bit of a black box," said one commenter, noting that the commission doesn't even publish minutes of its executive sessions.

Other recommendations include using regular practices and protocols for halibut meetings. Also noted are expanding the commission to represent more user interests and to elevate the importance of tribes and "first nations," leadership at the commissioner level, and improving public communications.

The report concludes that commission staff is "well led" and its scientists skilled and experienced.

The public may comment on the commission's performance through June 10 by email at review@iphc.int. Also, two U.S. seats on the commission are up for appointment. The public may comment on the 10 nominees under consideration through May 25 at IPHC.int.

Fish watch

Last week, schools of herring beat the boats to Alaska's biggest sac roe fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay, where the run forecast called for a harvest of 21,622 short tons. Depending on quality, the roe herring should meet an eager market. Catches in San Francisco, British Columbia and Sitka came up way short of expectations.

Sitka prices are soaring, according to Seafood.com, with first contracts in the range of $1,500 a ton, more than double last year. The shortage has combined with strong demand for herring to process in China. Reports from Japan, where the roe ends up, say the cheap prices of past years have resulted in a huge increase in customers.

Speaking of shortfalls

Alaska sockeye fishermen apparently won't face competition from British Columbia's Fraser River this summer. Managers expect the run there to be too weak to support a commercial fishery. With near-record ice and snow packs still to melt, they worry that the returning reds will struggle to get upstream against strong currents.


Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaska.com.

Anchorage Daily News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service