2014 Economic Status of the Groundfish Fisheries Off Alaska

September 27, 2014

The commercial groundfish fishery off Alaska catch totaled 2.3 million tons (t) in 2014 (including catch in federal and state waters). This amount was up 4.2% from 2013, and was roughly five times larger than the combined catch of Alaska’s other commercial domestic species (Fig. 1 and Table 1). Groundfish accounted for 85% of Alaska’s 2014 total catch, which was slightly greater than typical because of lower Pacific salmon catch (Table 1A), reduced halibut catches (Table H1A) and increased Gulf of Alaska groundfish harvest. In addition, the groundfish fishery off Alaska is an important segment of the U.S. fishing industry. In 2013, it accounted for 48% of the weight of total U.S. domestic landings (Fisheries of the United States, 2013).

Alaska’s FMP fisheries can be broadly divided into 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 2014, catcher vessels accounted for 49% of the ex-vessel value of the groundfish landings compared to 45% 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 first-wholesale value to exclude the value added by at-sea processing.

Total catches of FMP groundfish fisheries increased for the majority of species (complexes) in 2014 (Table 2).1 Alaska pollock, Pacific cod and rockfish complex catches increased 5.4%, 0.68% and 6.9% respectively, with a notably large 26% increase in Atka mackerel. Sablefish total catch decreased 15% and total catch in the flatfish complex decreased 0.63%. The contributions of the major groundfish species or species groups to the total catch are depicted in Fig. 1. Alaska pollock, the dominant species in terms of catch, accounted for 65% of FMP groundfish with a catch of 1.4 million t (Table 2). The majority of the Alaska pollock harvest occurs in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) (90% in 2014) where catches increased slightly over last year. However, the 50% increase in Gulf of Alaska (GOA) pollock brought catches in that region to the highest level observed over the last decade. The second most abundantly harvested species in Alaska is Pacific cod with a catch of 297 thousand t in 2014. Changes in Pacific cod total catches differed regionally as catch increased significantly in the GOA but not the BSAI. Rockfish catch totaled 62 thousand t in 2014 and increased most notably in the GOA Pacific ocean perch fishery (Table R1). The 2014 increase in Atka mackerel total catch to 29 thousand t comes after a precipitous decrease in 2013 catches, and in 2014 remained below the 2010-2012 average. Sablefish catch was 11 thousand t in 2014, down from 13 thousand t in 2013 with the decrease occuring in the GOA. The flatfish total catch decrease was concentrated in the BSAI, with the rock sole trawl catch decreasing by 13% (Table 4). GOA flatfish catches increased significantly, which was most notable in the arrowtooth trawl fishery where catch increased 68% (Table 3) as a result of regulatory changes to sideboard limits.2 The increase in halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) in 2014 appears to be largely attributable to the increased catch of GOA arrowtooth as flatfish PSC rates did not change appreciably (Tables 11-15). Halibut PSC on most other target species decreased between 2013 and 2014 (Tables 12 and 13).

The aggregate ex-vessel value of the FMP groundfish fisheries off Alaska was $934 million, which was 51% of the ex-vessel value of all commercial fisheries off Alaska in 2014 (Tables 17 and 19) and 17% of the ex-vessel value of total U.S. domestic landings (NMFS, 2013).3Groundfish made up a larger share of the ex-vessel value from the fisheries off Alaska than last year, in part, because of the decrease in salmon. Nominal ex-vessel value of FMP groundfish increased $64 million in 2014 (Table 19). After adjustment by the Personal Consumption Expenditure Index (PCE), real ex-vessel value increased $48 million (Table 16).

The ex-vessel market of the FMP groundfish fisheries off Alaska showed healthy growth in 2014 with a 7.3% increase in aggregate value, retained catch increased 4.3% to 2,110 thousand t, and the aggregate ex-vessel price increased 2.9% to $0.201 per pound of retained catch (Tables 2, 6 and 19). Ex-vessel prices for individual species (complexes) were generally increasing and changes tended to be modest in magnitude. Because of this both movement in catch and price were critical in determining changes in aggregate value for individual species (complexes). There was some variation in the way in which ex-vessel value accrued to regions, sectors or gear types. At times changes in one sector would mitigate changes in another, generally resulting in (sometimes small) aggregate net increase in ex-vessel value. Ex-vessel value increased for all species (complexes) except flatfish. The largest percentage increases in ex-vessel value were for Atka mackerel and Pacific cod, and to a lesser extent for the rockfish complex (Table 19).

Additional Resources

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

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