Halibut dock prices rebound, but upswing may not last

Fishermen offload halibut in Homer. (Photo courtesy Rudy Gustafson)

Fishermen offload halibut in Homer. (Photo courtesy Rudy Gustafson)

Halibut prices fell about $2 per pound at the beginning of the season.

But there’s good news for some fishermen: ex-vessel prices are increasing slightly around the state.

“We did see the ex-vessel price for halibut perk up a bit where we’re at $6.25, $6.50, $6.75 here in Homer today,” said Doug Bowen, who tracks halibut prices around the Gulf of Alaska for Alaska Boats and Permits, a vessel-and-fishing permit broker in Homer.

Those prices have a significant influence on the halibut quota Bowen sells for fishermen.

Five dollars per pound at the start of the season is the lowest price Pacific halibut fetched on the docks in several years.

Increased competition from Atlantic halibut and a backlog of frozen product are mostly to blame for the drop.

Prices at the beginning of the season usually start high, McDowell Group fish economist Garrett Everidge said, and trend downward through the spring.

The recent spike in dock prices reflect typical market fluctuations, Everidge said.

“Maybe the market is working through some uncertainty that was present at the beginning of the season,” he said. “Around this time of the year, a lot of salmon fishermen who’ve done halibut are busy. It’s typically the slowest time of year and that could be why prices have appreciated a little bit.”

Experts hope the recent price hike signals that processers have sold most of their frozen halibut inventory from last year.

Prices typically drop in the fall as most salmon runs around the state come to a close and then rebound as the fishing effort declines toward the end of the season.

Bowen said that trend would be a welcomed sign.

“Hopefully as the effort spreads out there, we’ll see that price come back up – we hope,” he said. “Last fall was kind of scary because the price actually dipped in the fall and never did improve. We’re hopeful that we’ll go back to a more traditional model on the ex-vessel prices here this fall.”

Fishermen in Southeast Alaska and the central Gulf have pulled in more than half of this year’s total allowable catch, leaving about 3.9 million pounds to be caught before the season ends Nov. 7.

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