2013 Economic Status of the Groundfish Fisheries Off Alaska

September 26, 2013

The commercial groundfish fishery off Alaska catch totaled 2.2 million tons (t) in 2013 (this total includes catch in federal and state waters). This amount was up 2.3% from 2012, and was roughly four times larger than the combined catch of Alaska’s other commercial domestic species (Fig. 1 and Table 1). Despite the increased groundfish catch in 2013, the 4:1 ratio to other species was less than typical because of the substantial 65% increase in Pacific salmon catch (Table 1A). The groundfish fishery off Alaska is an important segment of the U.S. fishing industry. In 2012 it accounted for 48% of the weight of total U.S. domestic landings (Fisheries of the United States, 2012).

Catches of commercial groundfish across all species generally increased slightly or remained stable in 2013. The contributions of the major groundfish species or species groups to the total catch are depicted in Fig. 2. Alaska pollock is the dominant species off Alaska and in 2013 accounted for 63% of groundfish with catch of 1.4 million t, an increase of 4.6% from 2012 (Table 1). Pollock is caught primarily with trawl gear and 93% of the catch comes out of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) (Table 2). Catch for the aggregate flatfish, and rockfish species complexes similarly increased in 2013. However Pacific cod catch, which accounted for 15% of the total in 2013, did decrease slightly (3%) to 319 thousand t. This decrease came from both hook and line (including longline and jigs) and pot gear types (Table 1). Sablefish catch also decreased slightly. Atka mackerel catch declined precipitously, falling by 50% to 24 thousand t in 2013 as a result of reduction in the total allowable catch (TAC).

The real ex-vessel value (2013 USD) of the catch of commercial fisheries for all species decreased from $2.2 billion in 2012 to $1.9 billion in 2013 (Fig. 4 and Table 16) (totals include catch in federal and state waters as well as the imputed value of catch processed at sea).1 The groundfish fisheries had a total ex-vessel value of $878 million in 2013 which accounted for the largest share (46%) of the ex-vessel value of all commercial fisheries off Alaska in 2013, below its ten-year average share of 50% (Table 17). This drop in share can, again, be largely attributed to the abnormally large 2013 catch of Pacific salmon, whose share of the total Alaska ex-vessel value increased 10% to $680 million. The ex-vessel value of other commercial fisheries (shellfish, herring, and Pacific halibut) decreased in 2013 as well. Average prices for groundfish, Pacific salmon and Pacific halibut also fell in 2013 (calculated from Tables 1, 1A and 16). Alaska accounted for 22% of the ex-vessel value of total U.S. domestic landings (Fisheries of the United States, 2012).

The decrease in aggregate ex-vessel value in 2013 occurred broadly across nearly all species and gear types within Alaska’s FMP groundfish fisheries (Table 19).2 Alaska pollock, the dominant commercial species off Alaska, lost $41 million (8.3%) in ex-vessel value (gross revenue) between 2012 and 2013. However, the largest loss came from Pacific cod with a $69 million (29%) drop in value. Sablefish, flatfish, rockfish, and Atka mackerel experienced similar reductions in ex-vessel value between 2012 and 2013. The decrease in ex-vessel value in 2013 was driven by prices, which fell by proportionally similar margins (Table 18) (total catch increased slightly). While the decreases in 2013 are marked, they come after multiple consecutive years of increasing ex-vessel value. Between 2009-2013 total ex-vessel value grew by 7.9% (Table 19). With the exception of Atka mackerel and sablefish the 2013 ex-vessel value for each species is on par with levels observed around 2010 and 2011. While sablefish catches did not change significantly in 2013, the ex-vessel price has dropped after being high for an extended period. The low ex-vessel value for Atka mackerel is the result of a precipitous 50% drop in catch in 2013 (Table 1).

Alaska’s FMP fisheries can be broadly divided in to two sectors: catcher vessels which deliver their harvest to shoreside processors; and the at-sea processing sector, whose processed product sells directly to the first wholesale market. In 2013, catcher vessels accounted for 48% of the ex-vessel value of the groundfish landings compared to 44% of the total catch because catcher vessels take larger percentages of higher-priced species such as sablefish (Table 18). The ex-vessel value of the at-sea sector is imputed from observed wholesale value to exclude the value added by at-sea processing.

The gross value of the 2013 groundfish catch after primary processing (first wholesale) was $2.17 billion (F.O.B. Alaska) (Table 31), a decrease of 15% from 2012. This roughly matched the first wholesale value of Alaska’s non-groundfish fisheries which totaled $2.38 billion (Table 30). Most of the non-groundfish product value comes from Pacific salmon whose value rose by 35% in 2013 as a result of the substantial increase in catch. The first wholesale value of halibut, which comes mostly from the Gulf of Alaska, has declined by 52% since 2008, the result of steady reduction in the TAC.

As with the ex-vessel market many species saw a drop in first wholesale value (Table 30). Prices were clearly a contributing factor as both at-sea and shoreside aggregate prices across products fell for pollock, Pacific cod, sablefish, as well as the flatfish aggregate (Table 26). Pollock roe and surimi made up 37% of total pollock first wholesale value, and between 2012 and 2013 prices for both fell by 23% and 29%, respectively (Tables 25 and 29). Pollock fillet prices also fell, however, increases in production resulted in a net gain in first wholesale value. Pacific cod is primarily produced into the ’head and gut’ product form (particularly at-sea), for which 2013 prices fell $0.34 to $1. Pacific cod fillets are largely produced by the shoreside sector where both price and value increased by 1.7% and 19%, respectively. Most other species are primarily produced into a single product form which is typically ’head and gut’. Since 2009 aggregate prices have been rising, so the broad decrease across most species in 2013 and products marks a reversal of this trend.

A significant portion of the products produced from the commercial fisheries off Alaska are exported. Since 2004 exports of pollock originating from the state of Washington and Alaska have risen from 288 thousand t to 355 thousand t and value has risen from $743 million to $956 million (Table E.2). Pollock fillet and surimi accounted for 72.5% of the export value. Germany and South Korea were the primary markets from which export value came with $234 million and $228 million, respectively, while the export value of products going to China totaled $114 million in 2013 (Table E.2). Globally, pollock, Pacific cod and sablefish from Alaska accounted for 10% of the worlds 6.5 million t whitefish production in 2012 (Tables 25 and E.1). Alaska’s first wholesale value from these three species was $2.1 billion relative to the world’s total whitefish product value of $7.6 billion. Since 2009 Alaska’s share of production in the whitefish market has increased from 8.5% to 10.4%, while relative value has increased from 23.6% to 27.5%. The higher rate of change in value relative to production indicates that Alaskan products are competitive in global markets.

NOAA fisheries collects only limited data on employment in the fisheries off Alaska. The most direct measure available is the number of ‘crew weeks’ on at-sea processing vessel. The data indicate that in 2013, the crew weeks totaled 99,683 with the majority of them (96,737) occurring in the BSAI groundfish fishery (Table 50). In 2013, the maximum monthly employment (16,246) occurred in March. Relative to 2012, annual crew weeks declined in 2013 by 5.6%, which comes after a decline of 10% from 2011. Statewide average monthly employment in fish processing (of any species) was 10,600 in 2013, up slightly from previous years (Table E.3). Statewide average monthly employment in groundfish harvesting increased by 154 from 2011 to 1,252 in 2012 (the most recent data currently available) (Table E.4). Groundfish comprised 15% of the total fish harvesting employment in Alaska while halibut made up 12%.

Additional Resources

Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on 05/23/2019

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