2016 Economic Status of the Groundfish Fisheries Off Alaska
The commercial groundfish fisheries off Alaska had a total catch of 2.3 million metric tons (mt) in 2016 (including catch in federal and state waters) (Fig. 3.1 and Table 1). This amount was 56 thousand mt greater than the catch in 2015. Groundfish accounted for 88% of Alaska’s 2016 total catch, which was more than typical because of lower than average Pacific salmon catch in 2016 (Table 3). Increases in 2016 total Alaska catch were observed for most species, with the exception of sablefish. Alaska pollock, Pacific cod, and rockfish catches were at decadal highs, while sablefish catch was at a decadal low.
The aggregate ex-vessel value of the FMP groundfish fisheries off Alaska was $812 million, which was 53% of the ex-vessel value of all commercial fisheries off Alaska in 2016 (Table 3).1 After adjustment for inflation, real ex-vessel value of FMP groundfish decreased $100 million (Table 3) due to an aggregate real ex-vessel price decrease of 6.1% to $0.178 per pound in 2016. The drop in the aggregate ex-vessel price was largely attributable to drop in pollock prices which fell 12% to $0.126 in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and 30% to $0.083 in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). The GOA arrowtooth price also fell 25% to $0.028. Other species that are the focus of the shoreside ex-vessel fisheries such as BSAI Pacific cod, GOA Pacific cod, GOA sablefish, and GOA Pacific ocean perch were relatively unchanged or increasing. Notably, the GOA sablefish price rose $0.497 (Tables 11 and 27). Because movements in price were generally small, changes in catch were more critical in determining the difference in the way ex-vessel value changed for individual fisheries across regions, sectors, and gear types. FMP groundfish made up a larger share of the ex-vessel value from the fisheries off Alaska than they did in 2015 largely because of the decrease in salmon revenues. Revenues from halibut and shellfish also decreased (Table 3).
The gross value of the 2016 groundfish catch after primary processing (first wholesale) was $2.38 billion (Table 4), a increase of 4% from 2015. This change was the combined effect of an increase in aggregate first-wholesale production, up 3% to 973 thousand mt and an aggregate price increase of 1% to $1.109 per pound in 2016 (Table 4). In the BSAI, value was increasing for all major species with the exception of rockfish where decreases in both production volume and price resulted in a 15% decrease in value. In the Gulf, value was decreasing for pollock and cod. The decrease in cod value was because of a decrease in production volume. Decrease in value pollock was largely the result of a decrease in the average price of products.
The first-wholesale value of Alaska’s FMP groundfish fisheries accounted for 56% of Alaska’s total first-wholesale value from commercial fisheries (Table 4). First-wholesale value of Alaska’s non-FMP groundfish fisheries totaled $1.81 billion, most of which ($1.3 billion) came from Pacific salmon. Pacific salmon value decreased 14% as a result of decreased catch levels in the Gulf of Alaska. Salmon prices, which were comparatively low in 2015 with the high supply, rebounded in 2016. Pacific halibut fisheries, which are concentrated in the Gulf of Alaska, saw a modest decrease in production in 2016 after steady declines over the last decade. First-wholesale value in the Pacific halibut fisheries increased $3.7 million to $139 million in 2016.
The groundfish fisheries off Alaska are an important segment of the U.S. fishing industry. In 2015, it accounted for 51% of the weight of total U.S. domestic landings and 18% of the ex-vessel value of total U.S. domestic landings (Fisheries of the United States, 2015). Alaska fisheries as a whole (including salmon, halibut, herring, and shellfish) accounted for 61.6% of the weight of total U.S. domestic landings and 33.2% of the ex-vessel value of total U.S. domestic landings.
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 vessels and catcher vessels of FMP groundfish. These data indicate that in 2016 crew weeks for both sectors totaled 130,411 with the majority of them (107,647) occurring in the BSAI groundfish fishery (Tables 23, 39, 24, and 40). In the BSAI, the months with the highest employment correspond with peak of the pollock seasons in February-March and July-September. In the Gulf of Alaska, crew weeks peak February-May with the catcher vessel hook and line fisheries targeting sablefish and Pacific cod. Relative to 2015, annual crew weeks decreased in 2016 by 3.5%, primarily as a result of a drop in catcher processor crew weeks in the BSAI. Statewide average monthly employment in fish processing (of any species) was 9,600 employees in 2016, down from the previous year (Table A.2). The Alaska Department of Labor reports that the statewide average monthly employment in groundfish harvesting was 1,602 employees which was roughly equal to the level observed in 2015 (Table A.3). Groundfish comprised 20% of the total fish harvesting employment in Alaska in 2016.
Alaska’s FMP groundfish fisheries have six major species (complexes); Alaska pollock, Pacific cod, sablefish, Atka mackerel, the flatfish complex, and the rockfish complex, plus Pacific halibut (which is not an FMP groundfish).2 The fisheries for these species (complexes) are distributed across two regions: the Bering Sea & Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska. Each region 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. Catcher vessels account for a higher proportion of the ex-vessel value of groundfish landings than total catch because they take larger than average percentages of higher-priced species such as sablefish. 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. The following gives a summary of the economic status of the six FMP groundfish species’ (complexes) fisheries in 2016.