Halibut harvests cut again, steeper reductions may be coming in 2013

As expected, there will be less Pacific halibut to catch next year for fishermen from California to Alaska. Fishery scientists are recommending a 2012 coastwide halibut catch of 33 million pounds, a 19 percent decrease from the 41 million pound limit for this year.

Several reasons for the cuts were offered: Pacific halibut stocks continue a decade-long decline; there appear to be too few younger fish entering the population; the halibut are smaller than they should be at a given age; and scientists believe they have overestimated the halibut biomass for years.

For Alaska, the proposed 2012 catch is 25.52 millions pounds, a reduction from more than 30 million pounds this year, or about 22 percent.

Bruce Leaman, director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, said it has been one of the “toughest years ever” for stock assessments. He also put the industry on notice that more severe cuts are likely, possibly as soon as 2013.

“It is worth pointing out to you the reality that using our assessment models the way we are, we are consistently overestimating biomass given the performance of the fishery,” Leaman said, speaking at a meeting last week in Seattle.

How low could the Pacific halibut fishery go? One forecast model that weighs heavily on “retrospective” catch data projected a decrease to just 15 million pounds.

The commission will make final decisions on 2012 catch limits and other proposals at its meeting Jan. 24 to 27 in Anchorage.

Fishy Christmas poem

There have been many twists to the poem, “The Night before Christmas,” since Clement Moore penned it in 1823. None is quite like the latest, which hails from Sitka as a tribute to commercial fishing.

In “The Bight ... Before Christmas,” jolly old St. Nick arrives not in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, but in a skiff hauled by fish.

“And then in a twinkling I heard on the deck, the slapping of tail fins in one steady thwack! The scraping of metal, the screech of the latch, and there was St. Nicholas, in through the hatch.”

The fishy Christmas poem was first penned by Will Swagle as space filler for his bi-monthly newspaper, the Sitka Soup.

“The fishing industry here is so colorful, and at Christmas there are lighted boat parades and all kinds of things that inspired me to make the poem personal to the commercial fishing industry in Alaska,” Swagle said in a phone interview.

As it grew more popular, he searched for several years for an illustrator to help turn the “Bight” into a book. The chemistry finally clicked two years ago with local artist Colin Herforth, who created 18 original watercolors.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in wheelhouses and on deck and I felt I could lend some authenticity to his verbiage,” Herforth said.

Salmon summer sales sizzle

It’s been a good year for Alaska’s salmon industry, with prices and sales continuing to tick upward.

Alaska fishermen delivered just more than 176 million salmon to processors this summer, 3 percent higher than 2010, although well below the forecast. A breakdown by Seafood Trend’s Ken Tally shows that Alaska salmon fishermen and processors generated $1.14 billion in sales just this summer, up nearly 2 percent in a recession.

Another bump up: average dock prices to 76 cents per pound, nearly 3 percent higher than last year, and compared to 57 cents per pound two years ago.

Some price highlights: king salmon prices averaged out at $3.35 per pound this summer, down from $3.60 last year—except for Southeast trollers, who got $3.80.

Fresh cohos saw nice increases at wholesale this summer, with fillets fetching $6.58 a pound, 31 cents higher than last year.

More Alaska headed and gutted sockeye also went to the more lucrative fresh fish market —18.5 million pounds, an increase of 7 million pounds from last summer. Likewise, sales of fresh sockeye salmon fillets doubled to 5 million pounds.

Talley calls chum salmon, “the new pinks,” and said many retailers find chums more appealing than sockeyes. Chum prices to fishermen increased a nickel this summer to an average of 75 cents per pound.

Salmon sales continue well beyond the summer and the values are certain to increase when the 2011 pack is tallied early next year.

11/10/2016 - 10:36pm