JUNEAU (AP) -- A couple of weeks into this year's longer halibut season, prices processors pay to fishermen are higher than last year.
Craig Shoemaker, plant manager at the Seafood Producers Cooperative's Sitka plant, said prices began at about $3.25 to $3.30 per pound and are currently just over $3.
In the last few years, prices have started between $2.50 and $3, he said. It's typical for prices to start high and then fall as production increases.
''I think that because the prices started higher this year, they may likely stabilize at a bit higher level than they did last year,'' Shoemaker said.
Amid concerns about market competition as Atlantic halibut farms spring up in eastern Canada, the international body that regulates Pacific halibut quotas began the season March 1, two weeks earlier than usual.
Despite the longer season -- it will still end Nov. 15 -- regional quotas established by the International Pacific Halibut Commission remain the same. Alaska's quota is about 61 million pounds.
Bruce Leman, the executive director of the Seattle-based International Pacific Halibut Commission, said prices are high partly because of bad weather, and also because supplies of frozen halibut stocked by processors for distribution during the four-month off-season period ran out early this year.
Leman said the season is looking as good as last year when it comes to the abundance of fish in the ocean.
''The stock has been sitting at a fairly high level for the past half decade or so. We're expecting over the next half decade for it to slowly decline,'' he said.
While his plant has been able to take advantage of the earlier season, Shoemaker said processors in more remote communities might not have been able to do so.
''The majority of their folks come in for the season and some of them had already made plans not to be there (in early March),'' he said. ''But we have enough of a resident force here to respond to the earlier opening.''
Sitka fisherman Richie Davis, who also is the director of the cooperative, said the earlier opening is beneficial to fishermen who need the income sooner.
''It gets fishermen who are against the rope for tax purposes to get an earlier start at it,'' he said.
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