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Salmon demand drives permit prices higher

Laine Welch

KODIAK -- The depressed global economy a year ago made it slow going for brokers who buy, sell and trade fishing permits. But that's no longer the case. Higher salmon prices have driven up both demand and prices for salmon permits in most regions of the state.

"This year has been much busier for us," said Doug Bowen at Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. "We've seen most of the benchmark permits up as high as they've been in the past 10-12 years, basically since the industry crashed when the farmed salmon came along."

"With a few exceptions in some areas, people are pretty worked up about salmon these days, and the permit market has been responding accordingly," agreed Jeff Osborn at Dock Street Brokers in Seattle.

Bristol Bay drift permits, for example, are selling for up to $132,000, compared with $74,000 a year ago. Another hot item is Prince William Sound seine permits.

Seine permits "went insane," Bowen said, and practically doubled in value overnight to $150,000 to $160,000. Dock Street has PWS seine permits listed as high as $195,000.

Other examples:

• Cook Inlet drift permits at $50,000.

• Southeast drifts at $66,000.

• A permit for a Panhandle power troll fetches $27,000 to $37,000.

• A Yukon gillnet permit is around $10,000.

An exception to the upward trend is Kodiak, where lackluster salmon fisheries have seine permits stalled in the $30,000 range.

Just as higher salmon prices have pushed up the value of permits, the same is true for quota shares of halibut, black cod and Bering Sea crab.

Last year the recession kept a downward press on fish prices, but they have rebounded. Halibut has topped $6.50 a pound at major ports; large black cod is priced over $7 a pound.

"We are back up to the same values we saw two years ago, where some halibut shares are selling for $28 a pound, and black cod is also very high," Bowen said.

Shares of the black cod catch have been trading at $22 a pound and as high as $24 in Southeast and the Central Gulf; the low is $3 per pound in the Bering Sea. Bowen and Osborn said there is a lot of interest in quota shares for both fish, but they are pricey and hard to find.

The same holds true for catch shares of Bering Sea crab.

Snow crab shares are priced at around $10 per pound for vessel owners and in the $25 range or higher for red king crab. Prices are lower for crew shares, Osborn said, and financing has not been a problem.

The crab catch share plan in the Bering Sea is set for a five year review by the North Pacific Council in December, and that has given pause to potential purchasers.

"The uncertainty and concern seem to have waned a bit, but it is definitely in the back of people's minds," Osborn said.

BIGGER POLLOCK CATCH

Recommendations for 2011 catch quotas suggest increases for ground fish, which make up the bulk of Alaska's fisheries by volume and value.

Nearly 85 percent of Alaska's seafood landings are caught in federal waters, meaning from three to 200 miles from shore.

For Alaska pollock, which accounts for one-third of total U.S. fish landings, the Bering Sea catch could increase to 1.1 million metric tons, up from 813,000 metric tons.

For pollock in the Gulf of Alaska, a catch of nearly 100,000 metric tons is an increase of 25 percent.

Cod catches in both regions continue an upward trend -- for the Bering Sea, cod is pegged at nearly 170,000 metric tons, up about 40,000. For the Gulf, next year's cod take of nearly 60,000 metric tons is an increase of 14,000 over the 2010 catch.

Black cod numbers remain on a downward trend for both regions: The recommended catch of 9,300 metric tons for the Gulf fleet is down slightly, as is the Bering Sea catch of about 5,000 metric tons. The North Pacific Management Council Final will decide catch limits in December.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Her information column appears every other Sunday. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting or placing on your Web site or newsletter, contact msfish@alaska.com.


LAINE WELCH
FISHERIES