Web posted Friday, August 5, 2011

Permit, quota prices skyrocketing; Sitka launches salmon tours

By Laine Welch
For the Journal

The value of Alaska fishing permits and catch shares has taken a big jump along with fish prices. The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission posts permit value for state fisheries, catch share transactions are overseen by federal managers, and brokers track and list actual asking prices and offers for the whole, well, kettle of fish.

A sampler from four brokerage web sites shows hefty increases in values nearly across the board:

For Alaska's bellwether salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, most drift permits are being offered at $160,000, up from $132,000 last October, and more than double the price in 2009.

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The asking price for a Prince William Sound salmon drift permit tops $180,000, an increase of $20,000 from last fall; Southeast drifts are listed at $90,000 to $150,000, an increase of $30,000. Cook Inlet driftnet permits are listed in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, similar to last year; offers for Area M/Alaska Peninsula drift permits range from $140,000 to $150,000. A Yukon River salmon gillnet permit is valued at $9,500 to $11,000.

Chignik seine permits top the list, with an asking price of $200,000, followed by Prince William Sound seine at $150,000. Kodiak seine permits are in the $50,000 range, up from around $30,000 last year. Two Southeast seine permits recently sold at $125,000.

A permit to pot shrimp in Southeast costs $18,000 to $25,000. For Southeast Dungeness crab, permits range from $12,000 to $50,000 based on the number of pots. Kodiak tanner crab permits are listed at $35,000 to $80,000; a dive permit for Southeast's cucumber fishery can be yours for $90,000.

The most expensive Alaska fishing permit by far is for seine herring at Sitka: the state value is $540,000 and asking prices top $600,000.

Looking at values for Alaska's catch share fisheries: prices have blown past last year's high of $28 per pound for halibut quota. In the most prime fishing regions of Southeast Alaska and the Central Gulf, halibut shares now range from $30 per pound to $36 per pound.

For the Western Gulf, the price range is $19 per pound to $30 per pound; halibut shares for the Aleutians and Bering Sea regions go from $11 to $18 a pound.

Black cod IFQ prices are ratcheting upwards at $22- $32 for shares in Southeast Alaska, and $22 per pound to $28 per pound in the Central Gulf, up slightly from last year. In the Western Gulf, black cod quota shares are selling from $11 per pound to $15 per pound, and $3 per pound to $15 per pound in the Aleutians and Bering Sea.

No listings were reported for catch share sales of Bering Sea crab.

Sitka salmon lessons

"This town runs on fish" is the takeaway message for visitors of the Sitka Salmon Tours, a walking tour right in town.

"Sitka has all of these unique salmon sites within a mile and a quarter of one another," said Nic Mink, an environmental studies professor and tour director. "We have large salmon runs in the Indian River right downtown, which is next door to the Sheldon Jackson hatchery, and that's next to our harbors full of different fishing boats and gears, and then we have our seafood processing plants."

Of course, the salmon ends up on visitors' plates at local restaurants, Mink added. The new outreach program is a community collaborative of 15 local groups and businesses, backed by the Sitka Conservation Society.

Mink said his research showed that many places in Southeast Alaska tell the story of the salmon life cycle or share local maritime history. He said most visitors have eaten salmon or heard good things about it, but that's about it.

"Beyond that, they didn't really know much about how it gets to consumers plates, or about commercial fishing and gear types or seafood processing," he said. "The tour integrates it all and shows people how the whole salmon fishery in Sitka works together."

Mink said two things seem to fascinate tour takers the most – the first is how much labor goes into producing the fish.

"From the catchers to the processors — when they get inside a processing plant and see the men and women working the slime line, they are literally blown away. It makes them really understand why our product costs more at the supermarket," he said. "I tell them a fish famer is sticking a vacuum tube into a net pen and literally sucking salmon out, and you are removing all the labor that is so important to our culture and economy here. They are always really fascinated to hear that story."

Another surprise to tour takers is that the salmon's journey does not begin in the sea, but in streams of the Tongass National Forest, which produces about 30 percent of Alaska's wild salmon.

Mink said the $30 tours appeal to people who, "don't have the big bucks to go charter fishing, or flying, or don't want to take an expansive wilderness excursion."

He hopes similar walking tours will take off in other Alaska fishing towns. (see www.sitkasalmontours.com)