The Pacific halibut fishery started on Saturday, and if the dynamic of supply and demand holds true, there will be an upward push on prices.
The coastwide halibut catch was reduced by more than 18 percent this year to 33.5 million pounds, following a 19 percent cut to the catch last year. Alaska’s share of the harvest is 25.5 million pounds. That will be shared by roughly 2,200 Alaska longliners who hold quota shares of the halibut catch.
While no buyers were talking fish prices before opening day, if last year’s market is any indication the first fresh halibut of the season will undoubtedly fetch over $6/lb at major ports. The average price for halibut during the eight-month fishery in 2011 was a whopping $6.61 per pound, an increase of $1.75/lb from the previous year. In all, the value of Alaska’s halibut catch last year was $194 million at the docks.
Trends in the halibut fishery reported by industry expert Ken Talley show that over the past three years, the highest halibut prices occur from September until the fishery closes in November. Fishermen have learned to pace their deliveries to maintain the high prices. Last year, 4.3 million pounds, on average, moved to market each month, down almost 21 percent from 2010. Talley said this year, the monthly volume of halibut going to market may average only 3.5 million pounds.
A big question on everyone’s mind is despite the shortfalls, how the market might start to push back against the increasingly high halibut prices. And fishermen worry that no matter how high the prices go, it won’t balance out against the continuing decreases in their halibut catches.
Fishing boats rock and roll, pitch, yaw, surge, sway and heave. Skippers respond to the movements as they navigate rough seas in tough weather. Now, a new iPhone app provides stability indicators in time to help them make corrections. It’s called SCraMP, for Small Craft Motion Program, and it has a variety of tools boat operators can customize for their vessels.
“There is a view that can give them the accelerations they’ve seen so they can have a sense of how bad they are being beat up — everyone’s knees will tell them that, but sometimes seeing numbers can be helpful,” Leigh McCue-Weil, an associate professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering who created the application.
“There is a screen that will tell them how severe their roll motions have been, and a screen that gives them a choice of warning metrics that provide an index based on the heave of the boat, the roll and the pitch,” she added. “A fisherman can plug in however many degrees of roll and pitch, and how much heave acceleration and tailor the index for what they feel comfortable with.”
SCraMP users can set the points where they want an alarm to display, warning that the boat movements have reached certain limits. The user also has the option to record the boat’s location information along with the behavioral data and send it to an e-mail address. Another screen gives GPS information, and another can record all of the information.
McCue-Weil said stability indicators have been talked about for years, but prototypes were too bulky or expensive. After buying a smartphone last summer, she realized it had all the computing power needed to create a stability app. Input from fishermen has helped adapt it to their needs, such as tracking roll periods.
“That came about from a conversation with a fisherman who said when he is sleeping in his bunk and wakes, up he’ll count off a roll period or two to make sure things seem about right,” McCue-Weil said. “I figured it’s easy enough to have that calculated so when he wakes up, he can look at a screen and see what the roll periods have been for the time he was asleep, and see if there is anything trending that he doesn’t like.”
She emphasized that the SCraMP app in no way tries to replace the skills and experience of a good skipper.
“The captain has years of judgment that has been honed to his vessel and to the situations they encounter. I am just trying to help them make wise decisions.”
The SCraMP app can be downloaded on iPhones and iPads for free from the Apple iTunes website. McCue-Weil will be giving hands on demos with the app at ComFish next month in Kodiak and hopes to get lots of feedback from mariners.
“I am very enthusiastic to get feedback from people who are on the water and who have a better sense of what they need or want than I do,” she said.
Find more info on SCraMP at www.vesseldynamics.com. Contact McCue-Weil at
Kodiak ComFish No. 33
Kodiak is gearing up for Alaska’s longest running fisheries trade show set for April 12-14 at the downtown convention center. Exhibitor booths sold out fast, said Trevor Brown, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, host of the event. Included in the fishery forum lineup:
• open meeting with Sen. Mark Begich;
• updates on the restructured fisheries observer program set to be in place next year;
• 20-year review of Alaska’s salmon fishery and a look toward the future with UAA economist Gunnar Knapp;
• new fishing vessel safety regulations, some starting this year;
• ocean acidification and its impacts on Alaska fisheries;
• maintaining working waterfronts in U.S. fishing communities;
• community meeting on Kodiak’s boat lift, the largest in the North Pacific;
• Updates on the Pebble Mine, Chuitna coal mine in Upper Cook Inlet, and discussion with the State’s large mine permitting team.
“I believe the mining trifecta is unprecedented, and all of the participants were eager to come to Kodiak,” Brown added. Get more info at www.comfish
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry since 1988.
Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets.
Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around the state. Laine lives in Kodiak.