Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Seawatch: Halibut prices soaring

Bad weather, lots of quota unfished causing high prices

Dock prices for halibut are soaring to unheard of levels in Homer and elsewhere, including the East Coast where Atlantic halibut come in from Canada.

Prices have been above $7 per pound, and large fish over 40 pounds have fetched as much as $7.90 last week.

The reasons for the skyrocketing price vary, according to Billy Sullivan, owner of Kachemak Bay Seafoods.

He said bad weather in the Gulf of Alaska, lots of quota still in the water and little fish in the freezers to tide over markets when the season closes all play a role.

Canadian halibut is experiencing a similar surge, he said.

“Prices are pretty high back east, selling for (around) 10 bucks a pound. It’s not just here, it’s back there too.”

He said by the time buyers in Alaska factor in shipping to the East Coast markets, observer fees, landing taxes and other expenses, it’s another 30 to 40 cents per pound added on.

There is nearly 20% of the halibut quota left to harvest in Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, and Area 3A, Southcentral Alaska, and 23% total state-wide.

Those percentages are not dramatically different from last year at this time, but the quota is slightly larger. Last year the pandemic had many restaurants either shut down or under limited seating and mask mandates across most of the country, while this fall there is little public appetite for those restrictions nationwide.

Sullivan said the rising prices have been unexpected.

“I’m surprised every day, because I’ve been thinking, it’s been around $7.10 or so, top prices around $7.50, $7.60,” and then keeps going up.

Prices in Southeast have not been quite as strong, partly because of small volume deliveries, which have to be flown out for fresh markets, whereas fish delivered in Southcentral can be trucked to fresh markets for restaurants in Alaska or on the West Coast. However, they still have been in the $6.90 to $7.40 per pound range.

Part of the problem for restaurants, where the bulk of the fresh market lies, is trying to keep something on the menu that is only available sporadically due to supply issues, but a surge in people returning to dine-in establishments has fueled a resurgence of demand for fresh seafood.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission extended the season from the traditional Nov. 15 closure to Dec. 7 due to COVID-19 issues; last year it was extended to Dec. 31.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com

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