In 2017, halibut and sablefish dock prices, quota prices, and market prices in stores hit record highs. And, as what often happens in a free market system, prices rise to unsustainable levels and then fall back to earth. This is what seems to be happening in a number of key BC fish markets.A lot of halibut fishing happened late in the 2017 season, leading to stockpiles of frozen halibut at buyers and in freezers, which helped keep supply high for when the new 2018 halibut season started. Although the 2018 halibut season total allowable catch (TAC) has been reduced 15% in Canada as there are concerns that not enough juveniles are entering the stock, this reduced wild Pacific halibut supply will not likely impact prices as Atlantic halibut catches are increasing. Typically, wild Pacific halibut enjoys a 10% or more premium price over Atlantic halibut. One does not expect the wild Pacific halibut dock, quota, and market prices to recovery much this year, although the long-term outlook still looks cautiously optimistic. Conversely, with sablefish, many new juvenile sablefish are being recruited into the overall sablefish biomass on the BC coast. This has led to an increase in sablefish total allowable catches in BC for 2018, but also many boats are catching smaller fish from prior years. Similar to the situation with frozen halibut sitting in BC and Alaska freezers, there are stock piles of sablefish sitting in Japanese freezers, estimated as much as three million pounds. So both carry over sablefish and many smaller sablefish are also putting downward pressures on dock prices, quota prices, and market prices in restaurants and stores. Although the Japanese economy remains slow, China’s economy has bounced back considerably in 2018, shrugging off any trade tensions with the United States, and China continues to be a fast growing market for global seafood. Prices of Chilean fresh salmon to China has improved recently, partly due to the country’s authorities cracking down on smuggled salmon from Vietnam. Norwegian farmed salmon prices are also on the rise, and while these are early indicators, it is indicative of strong Spring Salmon prices in BC this year.
Albacore tuna outlook for BC looks strong, though early indicators suggest prices will be off the high of last year. We expect a strong tuna market in 2018 but not at the same level as 2017.
Some of the by catch species, with stocks in question, have had their total allowable catches for 2018 cut sharply. This is notably for Yellow Eye, and most fishers are doing their best to avoid catching Yellow Eye, but also the quota price of Yellow Eye has sky rocketed in the last couple of years.