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Albacore, Dungeness Crab Lead Fisheries in ’96

PULLMAN, Wash. — Albacore and Dungeness crab were the bright spots in an otherwise stark season for Pacific Northwest fisheries in 1996, says Washington State University Extension Marine Resources Agent Steve C. Harbell, South Bend, Wash.

Although improved, shrimp production remained below the historic average, the salmon catch was dramatically off and fish farming faced stiff pressure from outside the region.

The outlook for 1997 varies a great deal, depending on species, says Harbell. Oregon and Washington performance and projections also vary significantly in some species.

ALBACORE

Northwest albacore production increased again in 1996, with some of the highest landings in recent years. Prospects for 1997 are for continued strong production in both Oregon and Washington.

Prices should remain near 1996 levels, despite landings well above average.

Washington’s harvest of 10.8 million pounds was more than double the 25-year average of 3.8 million pounds. Landings were 7.3 million pounds in 1995. Oregon harvested nearly 9 million pounds, almost double the 20-year average and 1995 harvest. It was the largest catch since 1978.

Higher catches were attributed to albacore remaining off the coast of Washington and Oregon instead of moving further north into British Columbia. Ex-vessel prices of 70 cents per pound for iced fish, and 82 cents per pound for frozen were similar to 1995. Some fishermen continued to market their catch directly to consumers for around $1.25 per pound.

DUNGENESS CRAB

The 1997 Dungeness crab harvest should exceed the 30 year average, with most of the catch landed in December and January.

New tribal fishery allocation provisions and co- management issues could delay the season opening, or disrupt the catch in Washington.

Frozen inventories are down, with just 1.4 million pounds on hand at the end of August, compared to 4.4 million pounds a year ago. This, along with continued market expansion, should lead to higher initial prices next year at around $1.50 per pound, says Harbell.

Oregon landings of 17.7 million pounds of crab were the second highest on record, and up from 15 million pounds the previous season. Washington landings declined slightly from 19.6 million pounds in 1995 to 17.4 million pounds, but still nearly twice the historical average.

A strike over price, and a two week delay in the season opening restricted landings in Washington until the latter part of December. This cut into sales in a normally strong market period. High inventories of frozen crab kept early season prices low, with ex-vessel prices falling from late 1995 levels of $1.80 per pound, to a season average of $1.40. Exports to Japan increased, with meat prices averaging $9 per pound, f.o.b. West Coast.

PACIFIC PINK SHRIMP

Reports of large numbers of 1996 shrimp on Pacific pink shrimp fishery grounds should mean good catches for the 1997 season, which initially should be dominated by two-year-old shrimp in the 1995 year class.

Wholesale prices should remain steady at around $3.50 per pound for 300-500 count shrimp, with landings comparable with 1996. Continued pressure from imported product is expected.

After an early season lag, Washington and Oregon pink shrimp production increased in 1996 with a combined catch of over 20 million pounds. Despite the increases over 1995 production, catches were significantly lower than the five-year average. Washington’s 5.3-million-pound harvest was down 35 percent from 1995. Oregon’s 15 million pounds was well above last year’s 11.2 million pounds.

SALMON

Commercial salmon production in Washington plunged in 1996, to just under 6 million pounds — less than 25 percent of last year’s catch, and just 20 percent of the five-year average. Chinook landings as of November were only 2.5 million pounds, and coho landings were half of the 1995 catch at just 1.7 million pounds.

The sockeye harvest also declined from 2.3 million pounds in 1995 to 2 million pounds in 1996. Because pink salmon runs are only sizable in odd years, pink salmon production was minimal.

Ex-vessel prices continued at lower than historical levels. Pressured by competition, chinook prices averaged $1.25 per pound for fish under 11 pounds, and $1.50 per pound for larger fish.

Salmon production in 1997 will be about the same. Problems in ocean survival, loss of spewing and rearing habitat, and interception of coastal and Columbia River stocks by fisheries in Canada and Alaska will continue to affect northwest salmon harvest levels, says Harbell.

In addition, the Endangered Species Act may force substantial changes in fisheries management, leading to further reductions in the harvest of Northwest salmon stocks, he said.

Some increase in the catch is likely next year as the odd year pink salmon run returns. Prices should remain near current levels. They will be influenced by continued high production of farmed salmon, and the large size of the Alaskan catch.

GROUNDFISH

Projections for the 1997 groundfish season are mixed. Pacific whiting production may increase to an allowable catch coast wide of over 500 million pounds. This is due to stronger year classes and favorable conditions. However, Harbell says the industry is preparing for a squeeze next year. Dramatic declines in several rockfish stocks could cause reductions in overall production.

Despite these declines, prices are not expected to increase because of static market conditions.

Northwest bottomfish production (excluding Pacific whiting) in 1996 was below 1995 levels. Washington landings through September were 28 million pounds, below last year’s total of 32 million pounds. In Oregon, bottomfish landings were projected to decline 10 percent from 1995 production of over 200 million pounds.

Bottomfish stocks are fully exploited, with the catch reaching harvest guidelines before the end of the season, leading to trip limits on various species. Declines in rockfish stocks caused dramatic reductions in harvest guidelines and trip limits.

Bottomfish prices were slightly above last year’s levels with an overall average of around 36 cents per pound. For Pacific whiting, the full quota of 394 million pounds of product was harvested coast wide. Most of this was landed and processed in Oregon. An additional 28 million pounds was harvested in the tribal fishery in Washington. The whiting catch went almost entirely into surimi production, with ex-vessel prices of 30 cents per pound.

AQUACULTURE

Salmon net-pen production in Washington exceeded 9 million pounds in 1996, with average prices for Atlantics of around $2.50 per pound.

Northwest trout production remained similar to 1995 harvest levels. Idaho harvested 40 million pounds. Oregon produced .8 million pounds and Washington, .5 million pounds.

Wholesale prices averaged $1.50 per pound for whole live fish. In Washington, over 260 million trout eggs were sold at a wholesale price of $9 per thousand.

Shellfish production increased in both Washington and Oregon in 1996. Washington produced 63 million pounds of oysters. They had a wholesale value of $24.4 million. Oregon harvested 5 million pounds valued at just over $2 million.

In Washington, nearly 8 million pounds of other shellfish, primarily hard-shell clams and mussels, were produced at an average price of $1.50 per pound.

Production for both shellfish and finfish species should increase slightly in 1997, says Harbell. Prices for salmon and trout should remain at low levels with strong competition from outside the region. Shellfish prices could strengthen somewhat, with expanding domestic and international markets.

The report was written by 40 agricultural economists and other farm and ranch experts at Washington State University, Oregon State University and the University of Idaho, and private industry. It was published Friday, Dec. 27, by the Capital Press.

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