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Alaska Fish Factor: Busy Year for Alaska Brokers

23 February 2015
 Alaska Fish Factor: Laine Welch Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry for print and broadcast since 1988. She also has worked ‘behind the counter’ in wholesale and retail seafood businesses in Alaska and Cape Cod, MA. Laine lives in Kodiak, Alaska. www.alaskafishradio.com

msfish@alaskan.com
 
 

US - Last year was one of the busiest years ever for Alaska brokers who help fishermen buy, sell and trade fishing permits and quota shares.

“I was really happy to see such a good mix of permits we were selling – it wasn’t just one thing,” said Olivia Olsen of Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg.

“We had a lot of Dungeness crab permits, charter halibut permits, salmon and shrimp permits, sea cucumbers, and then whatever IFQs we could find.”

Salmon permit sales peak from March through May, and early indicators point to lower salmon prices this year in a plentiful market.

A strong US dollar against the Yen, Euro and other currencies also makes it more expensive for foreign customers to buy Alaska salmon. At the same time, record numbers of cheaper, farmed salmon continue to flood into the US from Norway and Chile.

Combined, those factors are having a downward press on permit prices – notably, at Alaska’s bellwether sockeye fishery at Bristol Bay. Drift permits last fall were fetching a record $175,000; now they’ve dipped to $164,000.

“Permit prices have softened in the Bay and actually kind of across the board for any salmon permits,” said Doug Bowen with Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer, adding that there “is concern about the price in the Bay this year.”

“A lot of sockeye is left in the market from the big run in the Bay last year, plus from the Fraser River. And another big sockeye run is forecasted for Bristol Bay this summer. So there are some negative price rumors out there about the exvessel (dock) price in the Bay dipping below a dollar a pound.”

Even if a permit buyer is interested, both brokers said it could be tough going for anyone trying to break into the fishery.

“Some of these guys buying in are having quite a bit of difficulty just lining up a market and finding anyone who will take them on, because the processors at Bristol Bay are bracing for another big year and not really looking to expand their fleets,” Bowen explained.

Elsewhere - Prince William Sound seine permits have dropped below $200,000 for the first time in several years.

Cook Inlet drifts are at $65,000, down from $90,000 two years ago. Kodiak seine permit interest is flat at around $50,000. Still, both brokers said the mood on the Alaska waterfront is very upbeat.

“I could feel it in the fall with how busy we were,” Olsen said.

“People are looking forward to a good year.” Bowne added: “We do see a lot of optimism among the fleets,” said Bowen,“and people are building new boats. That is definitely the biggest vote of confidence that you can make.”

I’ll focus on Alaska broker trends in IFQs/catch shares in next week’s column.

Praise seafood! The 40 day Lenten season began early this year – Ash Wednesday was Feb. 18 – giving the traditional boost to seafood sales.

The season will end on Easter Sunday, April 5. Lent, derived from the Old English lencten, meaning spring, is a time of fasting and soul searching for hundreds of millions of Christians around the world that dates back to the fourth century.

Many believers give up favorite foods, or devote time to volunteering or charity work. What the peak holiday selling season from Thanksgiving to Christmas means to retailers, Lent means to the seafood industry.

Food Services of America, for example, reports that Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year for frozen seafood sales, and the six weeks following is the top selling season for the entire year. Restaurant trades say weekly sales of seafood increase 25% - 40% during Lent.

In many countries, the day before Lent – called Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday – has become a last fling before the start of the long fast. For centuries, it was customary to not eat meat during Lent, which is why the festival s called carnival, Latin for farewell to meat.

While nearly all seafood enjoys a surge of interest during Lent, the most traditional items served are the “whitefish” species, such as cod, pollock, flounders, and halibut.

But no matter what the seafood favorite, the six week Lenten season is good news for Alaska, which provides over 60% of America’s wild caught seafood to our nation’s restaurants and grocery stores.

Crabby clothes - Stylish work out gear made from crab and shrimp shells is drawing raves from exercise enthusiasts in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The clothes are breathable, durable and fast drying. Everything we use is non-toxic so they are environmentally friendly as well,” said Quincy Samycia, co-founder of Strongbody Apparel. The fashion-forward line is designed for the gym, and its uniqueness comes from its “odor crush” technology.

“The magic ingredient comes from the ocean – it’s a natural biopolymer in crab and shrimp shells called chitosan. When it is combined with the fabric, it inhibits the growth of bacteria on the clothing and that is what makes it odor free,” explained Megan Conyers.

Samycia and Conyers spent years researching fabrics and making designs to fit their active life style before launching the apparel last year. (Google chitin-based fabric producers.) Between 500-700 crab and shrimp shells are used to make a few ounces of solution that is then combined into the fabric.

Because chitosan’s structure is similar to cellulose, it blends easily with cotton and other fabrics. “One thing that definitely drew us to this particular solution is that it is environmentally friendly and a by-product of the fishing industry.

All that stuff is just going to go to waste, so why not find a use for it,” she added. Estimates claim that nearly 25 billion tons of chitin from seafood is dumped each year.

Along with being odorless, the chitosan-infused fabric also is super durable – and it is safe for those who may be allergic to shellfish.

The Strongbody line includes workout shorts and leggings, tanks and sports bras, and Quincy’s favorite - the pulse elite tee. He agreed that it’s the chitin technology that has made their clothes stand out in the market of fitness gear.

“People like different. Nobody just wants to go out and get just another T-shirt. There is a strong market for what we are doing, and people are definitely looking to have a unique piece of clothing and they want a story to tell,” he added. Visit www.strongbodyapparel.com

Chinook News/Volume 2 gives updates on the king salmon stocks and research projects at 12 key river systems, with special features on marine sampling at Kodiak and the Westward regions, Cook Inlet and Southeast Alaska.

Chinook News, compiled by ADF&G, began last year as part of the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative. Questions and comments are welcome and can be sent to dfg.chinooknews@alaska.gov

This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaskan.com

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