Step 2: Determine Your Fishery's Value

people with crab pots on fishing boat

Before spending your money on a new permit, or upgrading your boat, get some background information on the current and historical value of the fishery you'll be participating in.

For state-managed fisheries, the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission tracks permit prices over time with their Permit Value Reports. 

Scroll through the tables to get a feel for what permit values have been in the past and what trends appear to be happening now. Does it look like there was a peak price in the recent past? Are permit values dropping or increasing? What's happening with similar fisheries in other parts of the state?

CFEC quartile tables - a powerful tool for estimating revenue

Permit values are just one indicator of the value a fishery. It can be tempting to look at the most successful members of your fleet and assume you will earn as much as they do right away. But remember, highliners likely have many years of experience catching fish, operating vessels and managing the business side of their operation and everyone had to start with debt, learning curves and grit.

Lenders use another way to estimate potential earnings - the "quartile tables" found on the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission website.  Here's a quick tutorial on navigating these tables.

To begin, in the "Quartile Tables" section of the CFEC page, notice the categories of salmon, herring, other finfish, crab, and other species.

Choose your species of interest, and then click on the gear code for that fishery. For example, the code for a Southeast purse seine permit is S01A.

Here you will see a table of earnings for each year for that gear type that looks like this:

S01A - Salmon, Purse Seine, Southeast - Year: 2013

Quartile Number Percent Total Percent Average
1 43 15.58 $38,621,388 25.07 $898,172 actual
(high) 43 15.58 $38,621,388 25.07 $898,172 cumulative
2 56 20.29 $38,530,909 25.01 $688,052 actual
99 35.87 $77,152,297 50.08 $779,316 cumulative
3 67 24.28 $38,149,999 24.76 $569,403 actual
166 60.14 $115,302,296 74.84 $694,592 cumulative
4 110 39.86 $38,761,699 25.16 $352,379 actual
(low) 276 100.00 $154,063,995 100.00 $558,203 cumulative
Total pounds represented in this table: 334,435,054

Look at the bottom row of the table, where bold text shows "total pounds represented in this table."  Look back through the years at this number to get a sense of annual total harvests for the fishery.  Are they going up or down?  Are they highly cyclical, as in this Southeast purse seine example?

Next, look at the row above, highlighted in orange. We see that, in 2013, 276 permits earned $154,063,995.  One might be tempted to just divide the total pounds and dollars by the number of permit holders in a fishery, and assume that they could expect to catch 1,211,721 pounds and earn $558,203 in their first year.

But look further. In these tables, CFEC divides the total gross earnings in each fishery into four tiers, or quartiles of top, second, third and bottom tier.

Here's where this data becomes very useful. In the top row of the quartile table, we see that in 2013, 43 seine permit holders (15.58% of the total) were the top producers and made up the top tier or quartile. This group grossed an average of $898,172 each that year.

Now, go to the lowest quartile row labeled "actual," highlighted in blue. Notice that 110 permit holders (39.86% of the total) were in the fourth, or lowest quartile and grossed an average of $352,203 each that year.

A first-year fisherman is more likely to be in the bottom group than the top quartile, so it is prudent to put yourself in the bottom half of gross earnings in your first few years, and plan how to manage your expenses and debts accordingly.

Remember these figures are gross earnings before taxes, permit or vessel loan payments, crew share, moorage, fuel, etc.