Laine Welch: Salmon permit prices up

Laine Welch

Alaska salmon permits in many fisheries have tripled in value since 2002, and the upward trend continues.

An overview of April listings by four brokers shows that Bristol Bay driftnet permits are valued at nearly $134,000 by the state, and listed for sale at $150,000 to $170,000. That compares to $90,000 this past January.

At Southeast Alaska, seine permits are the priciest in the state at over $300,000. That's an increase of $50,000 since January.

The asking price for Prince William Sound seine cards exceeds $200,000 compared to the $140,000 range a year ago. After being stalled in the mid $30,000 range for years, Kodiak seine permits are showing a steady uptick, now listing at $55,000 to over $80,000.

Looking at Individual Fishing Quotas, halibut shares have hit a $50 asking price at Southeast Alaska, the only place where halibut catches have increased in the past two years.

For the Central Gulf, the asking prices for halibut IFQs range from $28 to $42 a pound and $16 to $20 in the Western Gulf. That's an increase of about $6 in both Gulf regions since January.

Conversely, the prices for shares of sablefish (black cod) show a big drop in price from a year ago. Asking prices in Southeast of $22 to just over $30 are down from $28 to $34 per pound.

The decline is likely due to a big drop in dock prices for sablefish over the past two years (after reaching a high of $9/pound for large fish), and a 25 percent drop in the value of the yen in Japan where the bulk of Alaska's sablefish is sold, said Andy Wink, lead seafood analyst with the McDowell Group in Juneau.

mariculture project

Get growing! A new Alaska Mariculture Initiative has a mission to create a plan "to grow a billion dollar industry within 30 years." That would about double the annual dockside value of all Alaska seafood landings combined.

The ambitious project will be bankrolled by a $216,812 federal grant to the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, one of 10 award recipients out of a pool of 250 as part of NOAA Fisheries' national mariculture expansion policy.

"We see it as a real opportunity that has been kind of struggling in Alaska," said AFDF director Julie Decker, adding that the project will "broaden the concept of mariculture."

"We're not just talking about shellfish farming or aquatic plants, but also enhancement and restoration. It's a three legged stool," she said. "When you start looking at the industry from that point of view, it's a much broader impact and involves many different sets of stakeholders.

Decker points out many parallels between the mariculture initiative and Alaska's salmon enhancement program, where the state backed a $100 million low interest, revolving loan fund so salmon hatcheries could get built and operate for several years. That gave them time to develop tax and cost recovery programs to help pay back the long term loans.

Mariculture was approved by the Alaska Legislature in 1988; today 69 sites are permitted but only 28 growers are marketing shellfish, primarily oysters, with an annual value of half a million dollars a year.

The initiative foresees Alaska grow outs of geoducks clams, scallops, urchins, abalone, king crab, Dungies and various plants. Starting this summer Decker said AFDF will begin harnessing statewide support from state, federal and academics who already are active in the field, and include CDQ groups in Western Alaska.

"I believe there are things that can be grown out there, whether it's an enhancement program or private shellfish farming," she said.

The potential for well-planned mariculture is enormous -- New Zealand's grow out of oysters, green mussels and king salmon, for example, is worth $400 million now and the value is predicted to top one billion dollars by 2025.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Contact her at

Laine Welch