Outlook for new pollock season taking off in Russia

January 12, 2010 15:08

On 1 January 2010 a new pollock season took off in the Russian Far East, the fishery actually proceeding from the autumn season B in the Sea of Okhotsk (where as of 1 January 2009 the fishery has been broken into two seasons, A in winter-spring and B in autumn with ca.30% of the annual TAC 2009 of more than 1.2 million tonnes allocated for autumn operations), according to the overview prepared by analysts of www.fishnet-russia.com (www.fishnet.ru) based on Japanese and Russian sources.

The most active operations in the first five days or so of the new season were showed by the fleets operating in the Kamchatka-Kurile subarea of the Sea of Okhotsk where they harvested ca.9000 tonnes of pollock. As per 7 January 2010 the pollock harvest in the Russian Far East was close to 25,000 tonnes, of which nearly 17,000 tonnes were contributed by the Kamchatka-Kurile subarea. The pollock harvest in other Okhotsk subareas amounted to less than 3500 tonnes and ca.4000 tonnes were harvested in the West Bering Sea zone. Large fishing efforts, including motherships, concentrated in the North Okhotsk subarea, but there in the first week of the year the fleets more actively harvested herring with the catches amounting to ca.6500 tonnes.

The Russian herring TAC 2010 has been increased by 30% or 81,500 tonnes to ca.355,300 tonnes with the bulk of the TAC's increase contributed exactly by the subarea where the TAC has been raised by 64,000 tonnes or 28% on 2009 to 290,000 tonnes. That has actually placed herring in one row with pollock for those fishermen who have got capture quotas in the North Okhotsk subarea (there the pollock TAC has been increased as compared to 2009 by 100,000 tonnes to 390,000 tonnes, but more than 115,000 tonnes from this volume will most probably be allowed for capture only in the end of the year). Presumably, higher activity of the herring fishery in the area will be observed until the pollock roe grows mature, as in the winter-spring pollock season roe is of special interest of the fishermen and its quality turns into a determinant taking into account currently difficult price situation on export markets.

The Kamchatka-Kurile subarea is a traditional area for the most active start of the fishing season which could be explained mainly by early roe maturation. According to the Russian scientists, in the current year 2010 the general condition of pollock stocks in the area will be mostly defined by strong abundance of pollock classes of 2004-2005, while in the West Kamchatka subarea where the annual TAC has been increased by 91,000 tonnes to ca.311,500 tonnes the commercial stocks may be represented mostly by young four-year pollock of the 2006 class. In January 2010 young pollock roe will most probably be premature thus declining the stock's attractiveness as to production of high quality frozen roe. In this connection as well, in the first month of the year the fishery operations are recommended to be focused in the Kamchatka-Kurile subarea.

In general, the Japanese specialists are almost sure that in January 2010 and early February 2010 the main efforts on the Okhotsk pollock grounds will be concentrated in the Kamchatka Kurile subarea, then closer to mid-February 2010 the West Kamchatka subarea will step forward as the main area, and in the second half of the A season the main role will be played by the North Okhotsk subarea. However, there is uncertainty over the position of the Alaska Pollock Fishermen's Association, because the association is supposed to switch to specific fishery management in each of the two subareas depending on the situation on the grounds.

If the Association does not do the above mentioned step, the TAC for the Okhotsk operations in winter-spring (A season) will amount to ca.679,000 tonnes, of which 154,000 tonnes will be allowed for fishery in the Kamchatka-Kurile subarea, nearly 218,000 tonnes in the West Kamchatka subarea, 273,000 tonnes in the North Okhotsk subarea and ca.34,000 tonnes in the East Sakhalin subarea. If the actual catch is approximately the same and the roe yield meets the standard of 4.5%, production of frozen roe for export markets may reach 30,000 tonnes (less catches in the Kuriles, where the pollock TAC 2010 has been set at 160,000 tonnes). For comparison, last year the official output amounted to less than 25,000 tonnes. In a current market situation, especially in Japan, which has been showing all the signs of deflations trends, such a strong rise of the Russian supply of the raw material in combination with forecasted problems with quality (the share of roe in small and immature sacks will presumably rise) may turn to the prejudice of the Russian producers striving for the prices recovery.

On the other side, it is not clear if the seasonal production of frozen pollock roe on the Russian grounds reaches 30,000 tonnes, but there are certainly some factors which can make the life of Russian producers difficult thus holding back the production growth. Such deterrents include weather conditions as the winter of 2010 in the Sea of Okhotsk is forecasted to be frostier than last year. Besides, the ice conditions may also be more difficult, because as per 5 January 2010 the border of the ice fields declined along the West Kamchatka coast to the 53rd degree North, while in the same period last year it was still upper than the 55th degree North.

Great interest in the Japanese fish circles has been caused by the information that the respective bodies of the Russian Federation and South Korea have entered into an agreement on fighting the IUU-fisheries. In the course of two years the Russian side has been insistently pressing the South Korean side for some measures on strict control of such practices in the Northwest Pacific. Evidently, such persistence has paid off, though cooperation of the South Korean authorities in the issue is not gratuitous as the nation has respectively obtained a pollock quota of ca.40,000 tonnes in the West Bering Sea zone. In their turn the South Korean authorities have bound themselves to send reports to the Russian side on landings of particular Russian products in the South Korean ports.

The above information about the bi-governmental agreement lacks specifics (in particular, which exactly bodies will be in charge of the data exchange (on landings and calls) and how such exchange will work), thus enabling the industry to draw any definite conclusions. However progress in real fighting with the IUU-fisheries has already been seen which can exert serious influence on the markets, especially that of crab products.

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