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2011 Economic Status of the Groundfish Fisheries Off Alaska

September 26, 2011

The domestic groundfish fishery off Alaska is an important segment of the U.S. fishing industry. With a total catch of 2.07 million metric tons (t), a retained catch of 1.99 million t, and an ex-vessel value of $991 million in 2011, it accounted for 55.4% of the weight and 21.9% of the ex-vessel value of total U.S. domestic landings as reported in Fisheries of the United States, 2010 (FUS 2011 was not yet available at the time of this draft). The value of the 2011 groundfish catch after primary processing was $2,520 million (F.O.B. Alaska).

All but a small part of the commercial groundfish catch off Alaska occurs in the groundfish fisheries managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) under the Fishery Management Plans (FMP) for the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands area (BSAI) groundfish fisheries. In 2011, other fisheries accounted for only about 24,000 t of the catch reported above. The footnotes for each table indicate if the estimates provided in that table are only for the fisheries with catch that is counted against a federal Total Allowable Catch (TAC) quota (i.e., managed under a federal FMP) or if they also include other Alaska groundfish fisheries. The reader should keep in mind that the distinction between catch managed under a federal FMP and catch managed by the state of Alaska is not merely a geographical distinction between catch occurring outside the 3-mile limit (in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ) and catch occurring inside the 3-mile limit (Alaska state waters); the state of Alaska maintains authority over some rockfish fisheries in the EEZ of the GOA, for example, and federal FMPs often manage catch from inside state waters in addition to catch from the EEZ. The reader should also be aware that it is not always possible, depending on the data source(s) from which a particular estimate is derived, to definitively identify a unit of catch (or the price, revenue or other measure associated with a unit of catch) as being part of a federal FMP or otherwise. For Catch-Accounting System data from the NMFS Alaska Regional Office (AKR), for example, distinguishing between the two categories is relatively easy, but the distinction is at best approximate for Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) fish ticket data and essentially impossible for Commercial Operator’s Annual Report (COAR) data. Finally, even for catch that can be positively identified as being part of a federal TAC, it’s not always possible to identify what portion of that catch might have come from inside Alaska state waters and what portion came from the federal EEZ. Because of these multiple layers of ambiguity, there may be tables in which the reader should not construe phrases such as ”groundfish fisheries off Alaska” or ”Alaska groundfish”, as used in this report, to precisely include or exclude any category of state or federally managed fishery or to refer to any specific geographic area; these and similar phrases could be taken to mean groundfish from both Alaska state waters and the federal EEZ off Alaska, or groundfish managed only under federal FMPs or managed by both NMFS and the state of Alaska. Again, refer to the notes for each table for a description of what is meant to be included in the estimates provided in that table.

The fishery management and development policies for the BSAI and GOA groundfish fisheries have resulted in high levels of catch, ex-vessel value (i.e., vessel revenue), processed product value (i.e., processor revenue), exports, employment, and other measures of economic activity. However, the cost or quota-revenue data required to estimate the success of these policies with respect to net benefits to either the participants in these fisheries or the Nation are not available for a majority of the fisheries. The continued existence of a race for fish as a mechanism for allocating many of the groundfish quotas and PSC limits among competing fishing operations has adversely affected at least some aspects of the economic performance of the fisheries. The individual fishing quota (IFQ) program for the fixed gear sablefish fishery, the Western Alaska Community Development Quota (CDQ) program for BSAI groundfish, and the American Fisheries Act (AFA) cooperatives for the BSAI pollock fishery have demonstrated that eliminating the race for fish as the allocation mechanism and replacing it with an historic catch-share-based allocation mechanism can decrease harvesting and processing costs, increase the value of the groundfish catch, and, in some cases, decrease the cost of providing more protection for target species, non-target species, marine mammals, and seabirds. It is anticipated that the recent rationalization programs instituted in the BSAI crab fisheries, the factory trawler head-and-gut fleet, and the central GOA rockfish fleet will generate many of the same benefits.

This report presents the economic status of groundfish fisheries off Alaska in terms of economic activity and outputs using estimates of catch, PSC, ex-vessel prices and value (i.e., revenue), the size and level of activity of the groundfish fleet, and the weight and gross value of (i.e., F.O.B. Alaska revenue from) processed products. The catch, ex-vessel value, and fleet size and activity data are for the fishing industry activities that are reflected in Weekly Production Reports, Observer Reports, fish tickets, and the Commercial Operators’ Annual Reports. All catch data reported for 1991-2002 are based on the blend estimates of total catch, which were used by the NMFS Alaska Regional Office (AKR) to monitor groundfish and PSC quotas in those years. Catch data for 2003-2011 come from the AKR’s catch-accounting system (CAS), which replaces the blend as the primary tool for monitoring groundfish and PSC quotas. We would like to point out that the data descriptions, qualifications, and limitations noted in the overview of the fisheries, market reports and the footnotes to the tables are absolutely critical to understanding the information contained in this report.

A variety of external factors influence the economic status of the fisheries. Therefore, links to information concerning the following external factors are included in this report (see External Factors, page 11): foreign exchange rates, the prices and price indices of products that compete with products from these fisheries, Producer Price Indices, fishery imports, and estimates of per-capita consumption of fisheries products. This report updates last year’s report (Hiatt et al. 2010) and is intended to serve as a reference document for those involved in making decisions with respect to conservation, management, and use of GOA and BSAI fishery resources.

Following up on last year, a relatively new section examines the economic performance in groundfish fisheries off Alaska through economic indices. Changes in value, price, and quantity, across species, product and gear types are represented in aggregate indices, allowing for a concise visual display of the relative performance across different sectors of the North Pacific fisheries. These are plotted to allow for a concise visual displays of relative performance across different sectors of the North Pacific fisheries.

Another component of this report is a set of market profiles for pollock, Pacific cod, sablefish, and flatfish (yellowfin and rock sole, and arrowtooth flounder). The goal of these profiles is to discuss and, where possible, explain the market trends observed in pricing, volume, supply, and demand for each of these groundfish species.

Specifically, the market reports provide information on the relatively recent trends in the prices and product choices for first-wholesale production of a given species, and the volumes and prices of exports, as well as changes in the volume of exports to different trading partners. For example, some groundfish caught off Alaska have a large share of the world market and observed changes may be tied to changes in the Alaskan supply (TAC), while in other cases the Alaskan share for that product may be relatively low and changes in the market could be driven by other countries’ actions. Changes in consumer demand or the emergence of substitute products can also drive the market for a product or species. Thus, these reports discuss the way in which the particular species or product fits into the world market and how this fit is changing over time (e.g., the market share for the Alaska product may be growing or declining).

One fact that becomes evident when reading these profiles is that the type of information available for explaining the historical trends in a market varies greatly by species. Generally speaking, the amount of information available for each species is related to its value or market share, and as a result, some species have been more adequately assessed in this report.

There is considerable uncertainty concerning the future conditions of stocks, the resulting quotas, and future changes to the fishery management regimes for the BSAI and GOA groundfish fisheries. The management tools used to allocate the catch between various user groups can significantly affect the economic health of either the domestic fishery as a whole or segments of the fishery. Changes in fishery management measures are expected as the result of continued concerns with: 1) the catch of prohibited species; 2) the discard and utilization of groundfish catch; 3) the effects of the groundfish fisheries on marine mammals and sea birds; 4) other effects of the groundfish fisheries on the ecosystem and habitat; 5) excess harvesting and processing capacity; and 6) the allocations of groundfish quotas among user groups.

Additional Resources

Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on 12/23/2021

Alaska Groundfish Research Alaska Groundfish Management