March 29, 2012 | Vol. 39, No. 13

High prices in 2011 left surplus halibut in freezers as consumer demand waned

“High fish volumes and high prices in 2011 made for a very, very good year in Petersburg,” according to comments by Dave Ohmer at Wednesday’s Rotary Club meeting. Despite lower quotas for halibut in Area 2C, higher prices helped to make up for lack of volume.

Historically high prices that averaged $6.61/lb. for halibut according to industry data, with accompanying prices for black cod, were good for fishermen. Buyers however, pulled back on purchases leaving over three million pounds of halibut and some inventories of black cod in the freezers which has brought opening prices for both products down for 2012.

Ohmer stated that as the halibut allocation for area 2C dropped, prices went up, possibly a bit too high. Statewide, halibut quotas have dropped from 50 million pounds to 33.5 million currently.

Ohmer said the dockside price of $6 to $7 per pound resulted in minimum retail prices of $17 to $22 lb. for halibut fillets at the grocery stores. With the higher prices, retailers were forced to cut back on purchases. According to Ohmer, as prices went up the consumer base for halibut diminished.

Japanese purchases of black cod were enhanced last year because of the lower value of the dollar to the yen, according to Ohmer. While Japan is historically the largest purchaser of black cod, “they had more buying power this year,” Ohmer noted.

For pink salmon, Southeast fishermen brought in 49 million pounds from the north end while only 9.9 million pounds came from the south end. With an average price of 45-cents per pound it was a profitable year for seiners and even gillnetters who sometimes fished pinks due to the above average prices.

Projections for pink harvests this year have been established at 17 million pounds or about a third of last year’s catch, according to the ADF&G numbers.

While pink volumes won’t compare to last year, Ohmer said processors are strategizing as to what plants will operate and how many canning lines will run at each location.

Ohmer concluded his presentation with an upbeat note by stating that while things won’t be as good as last year there are still positive signs for the future of the industry.

Ohmer’s presentation to the Rotary Club about the state of the fishing industry is legend. Community leaders want to know the trends of the industry, and Ohmer’s analysis of fisheries data is sought after.

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