Halibut dock prices rebound, but upswing may not last

Jul 30, 2018

Fishermen offload halibut in Homer.
Credit Rudy Gustafson

Halibut ex-vessel prices are seeing a slight uptick around the state, which is good news for some fishermen after prices fell about $2 per pound at the beginning of the season.

Doug Bowen works for Alaska Boats and Permits, a vessel and fishing permit broker in Homer. Bowen tracks halibut prices around the Gulf of Alaska, which have a significant influence on the halibut quota he sells for fishermen.  

“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,” Bowen said.

That’s up from about $5 per pound at the start of the season, which is the lowest price Pacific halibut has fetched on the docks in several years. Most of that drop has been attributed to increased competition from Atlantic halibut and a backlog of frozen product.

McDowell Group Fish Economist Garrett Evridge said unlike this year, prices at the beginning of the season usually start high and trend downwards through the spring.

But Evridge adds the recent spike in dock prices is in step with typical market fluctuations.

“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.”

Those who are watching closely like Bowen also hope the recent price hike might be a sign that processers have sold most of their frozen halibut inventory from last year.

Typically, prices drop in the fall as most salmon runs around the state come to a close and rebound as fishing effort declines towards 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.”

So far, fishermen in Southeast and the central Gulf have pulled in over half of this year’s total allowable catch, leaving about 3.9 million pounds to be caught before the season ends on Nov. 7.