But what may be more mystifying than the two-week window that fishermen must choose months in advance when to catch their halibut is the pricing system. It takes a full month for harvesters to learn the final price for halibut — which was selling last week by seafood distributors south of the border for $28/lb US ($35/lb Cdn).
NL inshore harvesters in the Gulf have a 1,700/lb halibut quota this year. The most recent final price they were paid was $6.66/lb for the week of July 10th.
In terms of the Gulf halibut fishery, our harvesters were forced to choose in March the specific two weeks they wanted to fish their quota.
Only the weather wasn’t fit for some of those weeks, and some harvesters didn’t get their halibut. SEA-NL wrote about it here: Bad enough Gulf halibut fishermen have to choose in spring when to fish in summer.
SEA-NL asked DFO last week whether harvesters will be given more time to catch their small halibut quotas, but the department has yet to reply.
Many harvesters believe they should be allowed to catch halibut anytime in the June-October fishing season.
DFO says that lengthening the fishing season could result in lower individual harvest caps (1,700/lbs per fisherman in 2021) because more harvesters would have the opportunity to catch the fish they're entitled to — thus eventually lowering the quota.
SAFETY SHOULD BE NO. 1
To me, safety at sea should override all other considerations. Putting harvesters in a position whereby they could potentially go out in poor weather or lose their quota is a recipe for disaster.
The loss of four fishermen in 2016 from Shea Heights is an example of just that.
THEN THERE'S HALIBUT PRICING
Unlike cod, snow crab, or turbot — the price of which is negotiated between the FFAW and processors or the final price is decided by the province's price setting panel — halibut has its own pricing system.
The system is based on market returns from processors/buyers, and takes four weeks to spit out a final price to the inshore harvester.
I'll leave it to the FFAW to explain:
And here are the prices:
Some harvesters don't mind the "rebate" system, while others want to be paid for their halibut when it's landed at the wharf.
Both the pricing system and length of fishing season could be issues that licensed, independent owner-operators could help decide through electronic votes — powers that SEA-NL hopes to one day provide them.
Like snow crab or scallops, halibut sales in the United States are soaring, according to Undercurrent News, to the point that some restaurants are taking seafood off their menus.
An Atlantic seafood distributor in Atlanta sold Alaskan halibut last week for $28/lb US — up from $16/lb before the pandemic.
Independent licensed owner-operators are encouraged to join SEA-NL here. These blog posts will be public for a limited time, before becoming exclusive to the membership.