Slow start, higher prices for Alaska halibut season

Halibut prices for Alaska fishermen for 2021 started out significantly higher than last year, despite sluggish demand and transportation logjams in some regions.

Alaska’s Pacific halibut fishery opened on 6 March, and two weeks later, only 80 deliveries were made, 46 at Southeast ports and 34 from the Central Gulf totaling 355,524 pounds. Most landings appeared to be small lots that were purchased on consignment.

The first fish typically fetches higher prices and then drops off as the season progresses. No Alaska ports reported paying under USD 5.00 (EUR 4.23) per pound, whereas the 2020 price to Alaska fishermen averaged USD 4.00 (EUR 3.39).

Early prices at Sitka and Juneau, where there is daily air service, were reported at USD 5.50 to USD 5.75 (EUR 4.66 to EUR 4.87) per pound, up by USD 1.00 (EUR 0.85) from last year, and deliveries at Petersburg paid out at USD 5.75 (EUR 4.87) straight. No ferry service and high costs for airfreight bit into buying at nearly all Southeast ports, where major processors said they aren’t purchasing halibut until April or May.

Fishermen delivering to Homer were paid USD 5.50 (EUR 4.66) a pound, also up by more than a dollar. Other buyers on the Kenai Peninsula were paying USD 5.25 to USD 5.45 (EUR 4.44 to EUR 4.61) for 10/20 pounders and slightly more for larger fish. Reports from Whittier pegged the price at USD 5.50 to USD 5.75 (EUR 4.66 to EUR 4.87).

Except for small amounts bought on consignment, few halibut sales were reported at Kodiak, where the price was reported at USD 5.00 (EUR 4.23) a pound straight.

Pacific halibut from Alaska has been getting hit hard in recent years by fish from Eastern Canada, mostly Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with one Alaska buyer saying that region is now in the “front seat” for fresh market sales.

Federal trade data show that, in 2020, more than 10.5 million pounds of Atlantic halibut were imported to the U.S. from that region, valued at USD 70.2 million (EUR 59.4 million). Another 1.5 million pounds of Pacific halibut came into the U.S. from British Columbia, valued at USD 22 million (EUR 18.6 million).

Alaska halibut fishermen also are getting pinched from fresh farmed halibut from Norway, which last year totaled about one million pounds, valued at USD 6.3 million (EUR 5.3 million). Halibut caught by Russian fleets and processed into frozen fillets in China also is making inroads into U.S. markets and underselling all others. In 2019, that totaled two million pounds, valued at nearly USD 7 million (EUR 5.9 million).

Alaska’s catch limit for Pacific halibut is 19.6 million pounds. The fishery was extended by one month this year and will run through 7 December.

Reporting by Laine Welch

Photo courtesy of NOAA


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