Strong salmon season boosts permit prices, boat sales in Alaska

Prices for Alaska fishing permits are up following a strong 2021 season.

Optimism is the word that best sums up the attitude among most Alaska salmon fishermen after a good season, according to people in the business of buying and selling permits and boats.

Most fishermen in major fishing regions of Alaska ended up with good catches and dock prices were up from recent years, according to Maddie Lightsey, a broker at Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer, Alaska. That’s pushed up permit prices, notably, at the bellwether fishery at Bristol Bay, where drift-net permits have topped USD 200,000 (EUR 173,000), she said.

“The highest has been USD 210,000 [EUR 181,000]. But it's a pretty tight market. A lot of fishermen had a great year out there and made a lot of money. But buyers are hesitant to pay these really high prices. Many are hoping it's a pretty short spike,” Lightsey said. “Meanwhile, sellers are holding out for high prices, while at the same time expressing concerns over increased tax burdens if they sell this year following such a good season. Those two things combined have really restricted the market and there haven't been that many sales.”

Alaska’s statewide salmon catch this year topped 222 million, 32 million more fish than projected. As a result, Lisa Gulliford, the co-owner of Permit Master in Tacoma, Washington, said there is “plenty of interest in Bristol Bay permits and boats.”

“But the permit price is really high so right now, there is a lot of talk,” Gulliford said.

Other salmon fisheries also are attracting interest, including troll permits in Southeast Alaska, which Gulliford said “are making a comeback.”

“[That’s] good news and means that optimism is spreading throughout the fisheries,” Gulliford said. “Permits that have been relatively quiet for a few years are now getting inquiries.”

Permit values are published monthly by the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission (CFEC) and reflect the average of sale prices over the last three months. They need at least four transactions to calculate an average and some permits don't sell frequently enough to do that, so they have to incorporate sales from prior to three months ago, according to Lightsey.

“But the market changes so quickly that CFEC's permit prices are typically off, either on the high or low side,” she said. “The value of salmon permits is quite literally whatever a buyer is willing to pay for it!”

Before the summer season, power-troll permits were selling just north of USD 20,000 (EUR 17,000) and are now in the USD 28,000 to USD 30,000 (EUR 24,000 to EUR 26,000) range. However, movement in other Southeast salmon permits is lackluster, Lightsey said.

“Before the season, drift permits were selling for around USD 55,000 [EUR 48,000] and our lowest asking price now is USD 65,000 [EUR 56,000], but we’ve had no offers,” she said. “On the seine front, we sold a permit for USD 140,000 [EUR 121,000] after the season ended, which was the first I believe since 2019. It’s a really slow market down there.”

Likewise, permits at Prince William Sound have yet to gain much traction despite a great year for pink salmon.

“A few drift permits have sold in the USD 110,000 [EUR 95,000] range. No seine permits have sold yet that I'm aware of. And quite a few folks are moving from Prince William Sound seine to Bristol Bay,” Lightsey added.

Conversely, drift permits at Cook Inlet ticked upwards from lows of USD 16,000 (EUR 14,000) to reach USD 30,000 (EUR 26,000) or higher.

“A lot of folks had the best season they've had in years. Not everyone, of course, but many broke six figures,” she said.

Likewise, seine permits at Kodiak have been on a steady rise from USD 35,000 (EUR 30,000) up to USD 40,000 (EUR 35,000) since the season ended.

At Area M on the Alaska Peninsula, drift permits are rebounding around USD 157,000 to USD 165,000 (EUR 135,000 to EUR 142,000) after topping USD 200,000 (EUR 173,000) in 2019, and then dropping to no sales in 2020.

Lightsey said she has heard a lot of concern from fishermen over climate change and salmon bycatch in trawl fisheries, but it’s not enough to deter them from buying permits.

“It’s kicking them into gear to take action, which I think is great,” she said. “I think a lot of this new guard of fishermen are young and energetic and incredibly driven and dedicated to sustainability and preserving the future of their industry. Together with the old guard, they're really making a difference. They're writing letters and networking and forming advocacy groups and all those things are coming together and instilling a sense of pride and ownership in their fishery and making them more inclined to invest in it.”

Another indicator of confidence – both Lightsey and Gulliford said boat sales are brisk.

“I think good things are happening,” Gulliford said.

Reporting by Laine Welch

Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Fish and Game


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