Absent from supermarket flyers this spring have been ads featuring the year's first fresh halibut, reflecting the anticipated pushback by buyers to the high-priced fish. "No excitement this year," said more than one major buyer.
In recent years, dwindling supplies of halibut helped push up dock prices to more than $7 a pound at major ports, and halibut fillets topped $20 a pound at retail. That's not the case this year.
The fishery opened March 23. The prices for first deliveries at Kodiak were reported at $5.25 to $5.75 a pound, with a 20-pound split, then after the first week, prices dropped to $4.50 to $4.75 a pound. Southeast's first halibut prices were reported at $5.25 to $5.50, also well below last year.
Lots of halibut is in the freezers and "everyone is holding fish," said a Southeast processor. "We're still not moving a lot of fish even at the lower prices, so it's a wait-and-see situation."
At 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage, there was "not a lot of enthusiasm" for the season's first halibut, which was fetching $10.95 a pound for H&G (headed and gutted) and $17.95 for fillets. "We're selling lots more cod fish," said owner Rob Winfrey.
Lots of buyers are also holding onto pricey sablefish (black cod), and those prices also took a 40 percent dive at the start of the season. Starting prices in Southeast ranged from about $5 to $3 a pound the first week, compared to $8 to $4 a pound last year. Most of Alaska's sablefish goes to Japan, where the value of the yen is down 20 percent.
Sitka spawns out
Japan also buys all of Alaska's herring roe, but buyers will get less than expected from Sitka. State managers closed the fishery on Thursday, leaving more than half the herring unharvested. In all, the fleet took 5,600 tons of the 11,600-ton quota. This is the second year in a row that spawning has outpaced the commercial harvest at Sitka Sound, dramatically reducing the numbers of unspawned females, whose egg skeins are what makes herring really valuable. No word yet on herring price.
Kodiak's roe herring fishery opens April 15 with a 5,410-ton harvest quota. Alaska's largest roe herring fishery is at Togiak in Bristol Bay in early May. A catch of 30,000 tons is expected out of that fishery.
The world's first land-based, commercially grown sockeye salmon is headed to market this month from Willowfield Fish Farm in Langley, B.C. The farm plans to produce about 1,100 pounds a week under the West Creek brand. The fish going to market weigh two to three pounds, half the size of wild sockeyes.
Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Contact her at email@example.com.