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Alaska fishermen brace for more cuts to halibut harvest

Alaska fishermen are bracing for more cuts to their halibut harvest next year.

The results of this year’s surveys showed that the Pacific stock from California to the Bering Sea continues to decline, and will likely result in lower catches.

“We estimate that the stock went down until around 2010 from historical highs in the late 1990s. It increased slightly over the subsequent five years and leveled out around 2015 or 2016, and has been decreasing slowly in spawning biomass (total weight of mature fish to catch) since then,” said Ian Stewart, lead stock assessment scientist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission at its interim meeting last week in Seattle.

The IPHC oversees the Pacific halibut resource and sets annual catch limits for the U.S. and British Columbia.

A summary of the 2018 data show that coastwide fishery landings were about 23.5 million pounds, a low for the last decade. For Alaska, the total halibut take was nearly 16.7 million pounds, 5 percent shy of the fishery limit.

Total halibut removals by all users, including bycatch, added up to 38.7 million pounds in 2018.

Sixty-one percent of the catch went to commercial fisheries; recreational users took 19 percent and 3 percent went for subsistence use. Halibut bycatch in other fisheries accounted for 16 percent.

Halibut bycatch in the Central and Western Gulf totaled 2.1 million pounds, nearly all taken by trawl gear. In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, halibut bycatch is projected at 3.5 million pounds, primarily by Seattle trawlers fishing for flatfish.

The average price at the docks for Pacific halibut this year was $5.74 per pound, compared to $6.53 in 2017. Nearly 2,000 fishermen participate in Alaska’s halibut fishery. Catch limits for 2019 will be revealed by the IPHC in Vancouver in January.

Salmon stats

The average chinook salmon caught by Alaska fishermen this year weighed 11.6 pounds and paid out at nearly $70 per fish — more than a barrel of oil.

That’s just one of the interesting stats to come out of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s 2018 salmon season wrap-up. The fishery ranks as one of the most valuable on record to fishermen at nearly $596 million, and at just over 114 million salmon, one of the smallest harvests in 34 years.

The average ex-vessel (dock) price per salmon in 2018 was $5.20 per pound, up more than $2 from 2017. The average salmon price paid to Alaska fishermen was 98 cents per pound.

Each sockeye salmon was valued at $7 for fishermen, on average, and it was those fish that saved the day for a fishery that was a bust Gulf-wide.

Sockeyes accounted for 44 percent of the total 2018 salmon harvest and nearly 60 percent of the value. Statewide, fishermen caught 50 million reds valued at $350 million.

Fewer than 9 million of the fish came from non-Bristol Bay regions where catches were the worst in more than four decades.

At Bristol Bay, a catch of over 41 million reds was the second largest ever. It also was the most valuable catch for fishermen, topping $281 million. After bonuses and post season adjustments are added in, that could climb to more than $335 million, said Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

Bristol Bay is home to the largest red salmon run in the world and the fishery accounted for 57 percent of global sockeye production this year. It’s the third year in a row that Bristol Bay has accounted for more than half of world supply.

Alaska Salmon Price and Production Reports for the key sales months of July and August show a first wholesale value of Bristol Bay frozen and fresh sockeye products was 36 percent higher than last year. The average wholesale value increased from $4.01 to $4.51 per pound and sales volume increased 21 percent.

Bristol Bay fishermen averaged $1.26 a pound for their sockeyes this summer, up from $1.02 last year, but 43 cents below the average of sockeyes caught elsewhere.

At Prince William Sound, sockeyes paid out at $2.71 to fishermen; Cook Inlet averaged $2.27; Kodiak fishermen got $1.56; and sockeyes averaged $1.23 a pound at the Alaska Peninsula. Fishermen in other Alaska regions averaged $1.69 for their red salmon.

Find more information about Alaska sockeye salmon at bbrsda.com.

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