Homer regains title as top AK halibut port

Pacific halibut catches declined overall and the stock appears to be on a downward trend for now.

by | January 3, 2024

Combined users in 2023 harvested 87% of the coastwide catch limit, or nearly 26m pounds

The Pacific halibut fishery closed on December 7 and after 10 months of fishing, managers report that 87% of the 29,840,000 pound coastwide fishery limit (net weight) was harvested totaling 25,964,089 pounds.

The Pacific halibut resource is modelled as a single stock extending from northern California to British Columbia to the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea. Catch limits include all users: commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use. The halibut fishery has been managed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) since 1923.

After losing to Kodiak in 2022 for the most halibut landings, Homer regained its title in 2023 as Alaska’s #1 port with Kodiak and Seward following for deliveries. Below is a breakdown of catches by all user groups.

Pacific halibut survey areas in 2023

Halibut prices in the tank

 The big flatfish fetched some of the lowest prices since the Pandemic lockdown of 2020, said market expert Robert Reierson, CEO of Tradex.

For much of the season since it began in early March, halibut topped $7 per pound for fishermen and prices typically increase as the end of the fishery nears.

But that wasn’t the case this year and prices started to tank prior to September, ending in the $4 per pound range at major ports.  

Reierson of Tradex blamed some of the market downturn on halibut imports originating from Russia and exported into the US via China.

“While Russian halibut is predominantly caught as bycatch, detailed information about its fishery remains largely undisclosed,” Reierson said. “However, given that halibut is not a staple in the diets of Russia or China, and considering that Chinese production largely relies on Russian halibut, a significant portion of the halibut production from both Russia and China is intended for the North American market.”  

IPHC celebrates 100 years

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which was originally established in 1923 as the International Fisheries Commission. It followed the signing of the Convention for the Preservation of the Halibut Fishery of the Northern Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea, between Canada and the United States.

Each country has three commissioners on the IPHC to oversee sustained management of the Pacific halibut resource. The IPHC was the first regional fishery management organization of its kind and laid the foundation for all regional fishery management organizations active today.

The IPHC does not set halibut bycatch limits; that is done each year by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC).

 Over the next 12 months, the IPHC will hold several celebratory events, including a formal reception at its 100th annual meeting at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage from January 22 – 26  where the halibut catch limits for 2024 will be announced.

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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