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MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
This year’s yellowfin sole quota in the eastern Bering Sea off Alaska is 183,000 metric tons, down about 8% from last year’s quota of 197,000 metric tons. Last year, however, the “H&G Fleet” (a.k.a. the Amendment 80 boats) caught only 148,000 metric tons of their quota, as some boats targeted other species such as Atka mackerel. This year’s Atka mackerel quota has been bumped up about 25% to 31,000 metric tons, so it’s likely that the full yellowfin sole quota won’t be caught again this year. As of mid June, about half of this year’s yellowfin quota had been landed.
Pricing this year is slightly lower than last year, as the market remains cautious. Alaska boats were getting about $1,325/metric ton for H&G fish, FOB Dutch Harbor. That’s down from about $1,365/metric ton they got last year.
Through April, U.S. exports of yellowfin sole to China, which accounts for about 80% of all yellowfin sole exports, were down 20% to just under 18,000 metric tons. Overall yellowfin sold exports were off 14% as exports to South Korea, the only other significant market for this fish, were up 40% to just under 4,000 metric tons.
Pricing to distributors of twice frozen yellowfin fillets from China have been stable at between $2-$2.50/lb., depending on product spec. Longer term, yellowfin sole prices could rise, as more of the product exported to China is being consumed as whole fish for the booming Chinese domestic market.
Yellowfin sole has a firm, delicate texture with small flakes and when cooked and a mild, sweet flavor. It is available throughout the year, primarily as frozen skinless, boneless fillets. Most yellowfin sole weighs less than a pound so it’s usually sold as thin two- to four-ounce fillets. It is almost always frozen H&G at sea and processed in China into fillets before being sold in the U.S. Quality of Pacific flatfish, including yellowfin sole, varies greatly so it’s important to look for unbruised fillets that have uniform color. Purchasing whole yellowfin sole should only be done if the buyer has a way to negotiate with the supplier since there can be a high percentage of soft-flesh fish.
Yellowfin sole may be substituted for rockfish.
SPECIES VULNERABILITY | ABUNDANCE | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Yellowfin sole is a type of flounder that is slow growing, long-lived and greatly affected by changing environmental conditions, making it vulnerable to fishing pressure. However, its wide distribution over much of the North Pacific helps counterbalance these traits somewhat.
Yellowfin sole, which is primarily harvested in the United States, is the largest flatfish fishery in Alaska due to its abundance. Although yellowfin sole was harvested heavily in the 1950s and ’60s, its population has recovered to above target levels.
Factory trawlers in the Bering Sea off Alaska are the primary means of catching yellowfin sole. Trawling tends to be highly destructive to seafloor habitats but yellowfin sole typically dwell in sandy, muddy bottom habitats that require little rebuilding to recover compared to rocky or reef areas.
Bycatch in the yellowfin sole fishery is considered low, and does not include overfished species. Restrictions are in place to keep bycatch low, and according to the Environmental Defense Fund, better gear design is helping trawlers avoid areas where bycatch will be more likely.
Successful management measures helped yellowfin sole reach high levels of abundance. Substantial fishery management measurements remain in place in the North Pacific, including close catch and bycatch monitoring, calculated catch limits, and independent population assessments.
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