FISH FACTOR: Virus fallout shaping value of fishing permits

The value of Alaska salmon permits is another casualty of the coronavirus with prices dropping for all fisheries across the state. There are a lot of permits for sale, and the most offers ever to lease permits, especially at Bristol Bay.

The virus has changed everything, said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer.

“There’s so much uncertainty about if there will even be a salmon season here and there, and if so, what kind of a price can be expected and so on. I can’t think of one salmon permit that is going up in value. And if there are different permit values that have not gone down, it’s simply because they’re not selling,” he said.

Prices for the bellwether drift net permits at Bristol Bay are all over the place, he said, but well below last year’s high of $195,000. The 2019 fishery produced the second-highest harvest of all salmon species combined, and the highest value ever to fishermen at $306.5 million.

“We sold quite a few Bay permits at that price and then the market softened a bit after the excitement died down, and we sold a number of them in the $180,000 range. Since the news of the virus broke, they’ve sold in the $150,000 range, and we just sold one recently for $165,000 and then the next one for $159,000. They are all over the map but the trend is unmistakable and it’s down. And that’s the same story with all the salmon permits,” Bowen said.

Bowen’s brokerage lists 26 Bristol Bay drift permits for sale of which eight are offered for lease as Emergency Medical Transfers, or EMTs, in the $18,000 to $25,000 range.

That’s perhaps the most eye-raising twist in this time of pandemic: the number of EMTs listed for Bristol Bay this summer.

Dock Street brokers, for example, has 18 Bristol Bay drift permits listed, of which half are EMTs; Permit Master lists similar numbers. Of the six permits on the board at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg, four are EMTs.

“Folks that are down in the Lower 48 are having trouble making arrangements or either can’t or won’t travel up here and they’re leasing their permits out,” Bowen said, adding that the same applies to out of state holders of Alaska halibut and black cod quota shares.

“It’s not a selling issue. It’s just a temporary arrangement that someone else can go out and use your permit for the season. This year we’re seeing more folks using COVID-19 as a reason for transferring their permit or their quota on an emergency basis,” he explained.

The upturned food market also has more industry stakeholders talking about increasing canning of salmon this summer to feed the need for more shelf stable proteins. While it’s a valuable market, cans have the lowest value of all salmon products.

“Not many are going out for dinner and that restaurant trade was largely responsible for some of the great prices we’ve seen for seafood here for many years,” Bowen said. “And I think it’s going to take a while for those restaurants to reopen and for folks to feel confident to go out and sit down and enjoy a great seafood dinner with Alaska salmon, halibut, or whatever. It is just the times that we find ourselves in and there’s so much uncertainty about the virus. I think that’s why you see so many permits on the market.”

New tool saves fuel

A new online tool helps fishermen tap into how they can make their vessels more fuel efficient. It’s dubbed the Fishing Vessel Energy Analysis Tool and it was grounds tested in longline, seine, gillnet, troll and pot fisheries.

From 2015 through 2018 the FVEAT was installed on nearly 50 vessels, said Chandler Kemp, an energy consultant with Nunatak Energetics who helped design the user-friendly fuel saver.

“During the course of the project, we installed data loggers and strain gauges and measured all the different types of energy loads on the vessels. The tool compiles that information and puts it in a format that that we hope will be useful to people,” he said.

A user simply enters data about the boat, its fisheries and operating patterns and the readout gives estimates on what fractions of fuel go through the different loads.

“For example, it will give an estimate of how much energy goes to a refrigeration or freezer system versus propulsion versus electrical loads on the boat,” Kemp explained.

Outputs also include hydraulics systems and hybrid propulsion options, which Kemp said can be a fuel saver in several fisheries, notably, trolling and gillnetting.

“When the propulsion engine is doing very little work and you’re idling along at a low speed, maybe even deploying some drag bags to help slow down the boat, or you’re just drifting with the net. In those cases, it can make sense to have even a little electric secondary propulsion system. That would allow you to turn off that main engine during times when the load is really low,” he said.

The Energy Analysis Tool is loaded with short videos. It’s free online at the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation website, a project partner along with Sea Grant, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and Navis Energy Management Solutions.

Fish voice counts

Scientists who track Alaska’s fish stocks will soon get an assist from voice recognition software that can handle the rigors of an often sloppy job at sea.

During yearly trawl surveys each summer in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, scientists must identify, sort and weigh hundreds of species quickly and accurately. These long-term studies are vital to keeping Alaska’s fisheries healthy and sustainable.

Until 2013, scientists wrote the results on paper forms as they worked on deck, then switched to computer tablets to digitally record the data. But salt spray, rain and lots of fish slime caused the tablets to act erratically and freeze up.

The solution? Voice recognition.

NOAA’s Alison Vijgen is leading a NOAA team that is working with an Ohio-based company called Think A Move, Ltd, or TAM, which specializes in voice recognition software in noisy environments. Together they are developing an application for Alaska’s fish surveys.

Tests so far at sea using eight different voices have worked on 350 of the most frequently encountered fish species. The response has been positive enough to get the software fine-tuned for use in surveys this summer.

It will include coverage of the nearly 3,000 species found in Alaska’s waters.

Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Updated: 
05/06/2020 - 10:46am