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2012 Economic Status of the Groundfish Fisheries Off Alaska

September 26, 2012

The domestic groundfish fishery off Alaska is an important segment of the U.S. fishing industry. With a total catch of 2.12 million metric tons (t), a retained catch of 2.05 million t, and an ex-vessel value of $1,051 million in 2012, it accounted for 47.4% of the weight and 19.9% of the ex-vessel value of total U.S. domestic landings as reported in Fisheries of the United States, 2011 (FUS 2012 was not yet available at the time of this draft). The value of the 2012 groundfish catch after primary processing was $2,540 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 2012, other fisheries accounted for only about 33,000 t of the catch reported above. The footnotes for each table in this document 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. 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 is 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 may 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 included in the estimates provided in that table.

The BSAI and GOA groundfish fisheries are widely considered to be among the best managed fisheries in the world. These fisheries produce high levels of catch, ex-vessel revenue, processed product revenue, exports, employment, and other measures of economic activity while maintaining ecological sustainability of the fish stocks. However, the data required to estimate the success of these policies with respect to net benefits to either the participants in these fisheries or the Nation, such as cost or quota value (where applicable) data, are not available.

Fishery economists began discussing the potential for rent dissipation in fisheries managed with open-access catch policies long ago (Scott 1954, Gordon 1955). The North Pacific region has gradually moved away from such management, as discussed by Holland (2000), and instituted catch share programs in many of its fisheries. Six of the 15 catch-share programs currently in operation throughout the U.S. operate in the North Pacific, accounting for approximately 75% groundfish landings. By allocating the catch to individuals, cooperatives, communities, or other entities catch share programs are intended to promote sustainability and increase economic benefits. Research on North Pacific fisheries has examined some of these issues after program implementation (e.g., Homans and Wilen 2005, Felthoven 2002, Wilen and Richardson 2008, Abbott et al. 2010,Fell and Haynie 2010, Fell and Haynie 2012). A new section on catch share metrics provides a consistent set of metrics to evaluate the North Pacific catch share programs in various dimensions.

This report presents the economic status of groundfish fisheries off Alaska in terms of economic activity and outputs using estimates of catch, prohibited-species 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/Daily Production Reports, Observer Reports, fish tickets, and the Commercial Operator’s 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 2003-2012 come from the AKR’s catch-accounting system (CAS), which replaces the “blend” as the primary tool for monitoring groundfish and PSC quotas. The data descriptions, qualifications, and limitations noted in the overview of the fisheries, market reports and the footnotes to the tables are critical to understanding the information in this report.

A variety of external factors influence the economic status of the fisheries. Therefore, links to information concerning the following 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 (Fissel et al. 2012) 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 the data tables is a section examining 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 view of the 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 profiles 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.

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; and 5) the allocations of groundfish quotas among user groups.

Additional Resources

Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on 12/27/2022

Alaska Groundfish Research Alaska Groundfish Management