Fish Factor: Lackluster forecast impacts salmon permit values

Major buyers say Bristol Bay fish must be chilled, prompting scramble for RSW

Spring is usually the busiest time of year for brokers in the buy/sell/trade business for Alaska salmon permits. But that’s not the case this year.

Values for several salmon permits had ticked upwards after a blockbuster salmon fishery in 2017, but they have remained stagnant since last fall.

“That sort of summarizes the salmon permit market. There is not a lot of excitement about any of them,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer.

A lackluster catch forecast for the upcoming salmon season — down 34 percent – has helped dampen enthusiasm.

Even at the one big bright spot at Bristol Bay, where another big sockeye catch of more than 37 million fish is expected, the value of drift net permits has stalled in the $150,000 range.

“Sometimes before the season we see the price go up and up until the fishing begins. This year it just seems like it’s a calmer market and the price actually slipped,” Bowen said.

Also, at play in the Bay – major buyers will no longer purchase salmon from “dry” boats starting this year.

“They put the fleet on notice a few years ago that they will not take any unchilled fish,” Bowen said. “So, there has been a scramble for folks to get RSW (refrigerated sea water) systems installed or get a boat with RSW. There’s no doubt people are getting out of the Bay rather than invest another $150,000 to $200,000. I think that issue has calmed the market down for drift permits.”

Dock Street Brokers, Permit Master and Bowen’s company all list 10 or more Bay drift permits for sale or lease.

There’s not a lot of action for Southeast drift permits, which have slipped to $85,000-$90,000. Likewise, there is little interest for Cook Inlet drift permits, which after several dreary salmon seasons, have stalled at around $45,000 for the past year.

A few Prince William Sound seine permits have moved at around $170,000 this year and at Kodiak in the $30,000 range, but there’s been minimal interest in seine cards across the state.

“The forecast isn’t great for seine fisheries anywhere this year and you can see that in the permit markets. There’s just not a lot of interest this year,” Bowen said.

One permit bucking the trend is salmon at False Pass (Area M) on the Alaska Peninsula. Several good salmon years has piqued interest in that fishery and boosted drift net values to over $160,000 with listings few and far between.

Overall, Bowen said Alaska brokerage and boat sales businesses are chugging along despite the humdrum mood.

“Boats are still selling well, and permits are selling, and quota is selling too. It’s just that there’s definitely some dark clouds out there. I think in general it is going to be a skinnier year for the industry.”

Fishing watch

April has brought a mixed bag so far for several Alaska fisheries, starting with a huge slump in the herring haul at Sitka Sound.

The fishery closed on April 3 after two late March openers when the bulk of the herring size and roe quality was just not up to snuff. The total harvest of 2,800 tons was down by nearly 75 percent from the projected 11,128 ton catch.

Meanwhile, 68 herring pounds were operating near Craig in a herring roe on kelp fishery.

Kodiak’s herring fishery opens on April 15 with a harvest set at just under 1,200 tons.
Southeast’s May/June Chinook season for a fleet of over 700 trollers will open only in a few select areas and be limited to just 95,000 fish this season.

The winter Tanner crab fishery at Southeast produced a catch of 1.2 million pounds, topping the 10-year average. Fishermen got a nice pay day at $3.07 a pound, making the fishery worth $3.7 million at the docks.

A 70,000-pound golden king crab fishery, which ran concurrently, paid out at $10.10 a pound to fishermen.

A quick shrimp fishery opens at Prince William Sound from April 15 to April 30. A fleet of 72 vessels has signed up to compete for the 67,000-pound quota.

At Norton Sound, a red king crab harvest is ongoing with a catch of about 15,000 pounds so far out of a 50,000-pound winter catch quota.

Halibut catches are still coming in slowly with about 750,000 pounds delivered by 150 landings; for sablefish the catch was at 900,000 pounds by 82 landings.

Cod, pollock, flounders and other whitefish are still crossing the docks across Alaska and most of those fisheries will continue throughout the year.

And before you know it, salmon season will officially be underway with the first returns of sockeyes and kings to Copper River in mid-May. A catch of 1.7 million reds and 19,000 kings is expected at the Copper River this year.

Genders differ

Feedback on gender equality in the seafood industry yielded insights on how women’s roles are perceived by women and men around the world.

Over 700 survey responses were gathered starting last fall by the international non-profit Women in the Seafood Industry, of which 30 percent were from men and over 200 came from North America.

“The questions centered around what is the position of women in your company, for example, and what is your opinion of the situation of women in this industry. Are there areas where things could be improved, or where there is no need for improvement,” said Marie Catherine Monfort, WSI president and co-founder based in Paris.

The survey results showed differing perceptions depending on gender.

“The majority of men didn’t feel that there is gender inequality in this industry, while the majority of women said there is gender inequality,” Montfort said.

A main problem expressed by women in most regions was a range of discriminations; but that view also was not shared by men.

“A good number of men think the problem is the lack of women in the industry,” Montfort said with a laugh. “Which is good, because we want to promote more women to enter into the industry. We need them on board as well.”

The differing perceptions on what women experience, Montfort added, is one of the study’s most important findings.

The top industry need expressed by women as well as some men was improving the work/life balance.

“We know that in some countries this is better organized than in others, but the work/family balance is a really important point.”

Results of the gender survey are being compiled into a report that will be widely distributed.

Meanwhile, WSI has launched a worldwide short video contest (open to both genders) to highlight the lives of women in any segment of the seafood industry.

“It may be aboard fishing vessels or at aquaculture sites, in offices or teaching or studying at school. This is a way to show that women are major stakeholders in this industry,” Montfort said.

Winners will receive cash prizes and their videos will be showcased at industry events around the world. Deadline to enter is August 31. Questions? Contact womeninseafood@wsi-asso.org

Fish buzz

Governor Bill Walker and candidates Mike Chenault and Mike Dunleavy will participate in a gubernatorial debate Saturday, June 9 at the Bristol Bay Borough School at Naknek. Other candidates have been invited. The two-hour event, which will be broadcast statewide, is part of the 2nd annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo and has a theme of “Sustainability in Rural Alaska.” All proceeds from the Expo will again benefit the Little Angels Childcare Academy in Naknek. Visit www.bristolbayfishexpo.com