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Homer back on top as the No. 1 commercial halibut port in Alaska

Carey Restino | The Homer Tribune
Alaska halibut and red salmon on sale at Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Homer is No. 1 once again when it comes to commercial halibut, landing some 4.4 million pounds and beating out Kodiak this year by 1 million pounds.

Homer has traditionally led the pack in commercial halibut landings since the IFQ program was put in place in the mid-1990s. But in 2011 and 2012, Kodiak beat out Homer, a reversal that caught many by surprise. Those in the industry speculated Kodiak topped Homer because of prices and the ability of fisherman to shop around via satellite phones from fishing grounds in search of the best prices.

But Matt Clarke, deputy harbormaster in Homer, said his town is likely to remain the top landings port for halibut because of its proximity to the fishing grounds and the market. Homer is on the road system, so fish can be iced and shipped to market fresh.

“Homer has a logistical advantage compared to other coastal ports,” Clarke said. He added that the town at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula sees not only landings from fishing vessels that call Homer their home port, but also from vessels as far away as Seattle, Juneau, Sitka and even Kodiak.

“We are experiencing landings from commercial vessels from all over, and that’s a function of the high prices offered here,” he said. Part of the reason Homer is able to command high prices for halibut is because the city has an open-access port, rather than having a port owned by a single company that can command a certain price for all fish offloaded at their dock.

“What you are seeing is a free market business model,” Clarke said, with multiple buyers competing for fish and thus raising prices.
Clarke said the port didn’t do anything differently this year to attract the top halibut landing port title back. No concessions were offered this year that were different, he said, and moorage rates remained the same -- as did ice and crane prices -- as well as tariffs.

“There hasn’t been anything done to specifically attract a certain class of commercial fishing vessel,” he said.

Carey Restino writes for The Homer Tribune, where the preceding report was first published. Used with permission.