Bering pollock a fishing success story; Kodiak Tanner crab is not

Photo/Lisa Siefert/For the Journal

KODIAK -- Late January marks the start of America’s biggest fishery, Bering Sea pollock. It’s also one of our nation’s best fish stories.

Bering Sea pollock not only does great in world markets, but more importantly, thanks to good stewardship by fish managers, the stocks are healthy and at all time highs.

Starting Jan. 20, Alaska’s trawl fleets set out their nets to gather a bounteous harvest of more than 3 billion pounds of pollock from the Bering. That accounts for roughly 30 percent of all fish landed in the United States and last year pumped about $800 million into Alaska’s seafood industry. That’s a lot of fish sticks.

Trawl fisheries for pollock open on the same day in the Gulf, where another 220 million pounds are available for harvest.

In other Alaska fisheries so far this year, by nearly all accounts, Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery was a big blow out, both in terms of bad weather and scratchy catches.

"It’s as close to being a rout as you can get," said Dave Woodruff of Alaska Fresh Seafoods.

To make matters worse, much of the catch was "dirty crab," meaning very dark and covered with algae or barnacles. Woodruff, who advanced $2 a pound for the crab before he knew how bad it would look, said that price "was going to stretch him to the limit," as he scrambled to sell the crab to Japanese buyers, who purchase nearly all of the Kodiak catch.

Meanwhile, the Bering Sea snow crab fishery also opened Jan. 15. By the following weekend, a fleet of 186 boats had hauled back about 2 million pounds out of a roughly 30 million pound quota. Fish managers in Dutch Harbor said the fishery was uneventful so far, although everyone was bracing for worsening weather. Crabbers there were getting $1.40 a pound for their catch, which will add up to a value of around $42 million at the docks.

Alaska’s halibut harvesters will soon find out how much of the big flats will be up for grabs when that fishery opens March 15. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will decide if the Pacific coastwide catch in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, will be boosted to 74 million pounds, up from 73 million last year. Alaska longliners always get the lion’s share of the catch, and this year could be 61 million pounds, up from just more than 58 million in 2001.

The pricey black cod, or sablefish, fishery also opens March 15, and an abruptly canceled season in Canada could boost the value of Alaska’s catch. Citing so-called "significant declines in abundance," the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ordered all gear off the water by Jan. 18.

The department will assess the situation and decide if fishing for the roughly 8 million pound catch can resume at the end of the month. Alaska longliners typically get more than $3 a pound for their black cod, virtually all of which goes to Japan. There is a very limited supply of only about 25 million pounds of wild black cod each year in the whole world, most of which comes from Alaska.

Seafood ratings

The 16th annual survey done by SeaFood Business Magazine indicates that chefs, restaurants and grocery stores throughout the United States are optimistic about seafood sales this year. Here are some facts and figures:

The supermarket industry posted its highest profits in 30 years for the 2000-2001 fiscal year, according to the Food Marketing Institute. Despite a slowing economy and increased competition from convenience and superstores, 128,000 supermarkets nationwide took in more than $453 billion in 2000. Kroger is the largest retailer with 2,328 stores, and operates full-service seafood departments in 1,500 of its stores. In all, seafood contributes 1.96 percent to total sales in our nation’s supermarkets.

The National Restaurant Association projected that, even taking the economic slowdown into account, sales approached $400 billion last year, up more than 5 percent from the previous year. It’s the industry’s 10th straight year of sales growth. People in the food service industry predict that seafood sales will continue to strengthen because the population is getting older, and older folks eat more fish.

Shrimp and farmed salmon are the two best selling seafood items in U.S. restaurants.

What do restaurant operators look for when buying seafood? In order, they look for quality, service, price, variety and reputation. Their top five seafood sourcing issues are: availability, buying quality seafood, price, consistent supply and service.

Updated: 
11/12/2016 - 4:13pm

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