Much like October, March is a season of change, here on the Chesapeake and along much of our coast. Although we are still firmly gripped by cold temperatures, the grass is starting to green and many trees are beginning to bud because of the length of the day. The migratory Canadian geese will leave the Eastern Shore in droves on the next warm spell with a southern breeze. All eight species of the Chesapeake’s anadromous fish will begin their spawning runs this month. These include white perch, yellow perch, American sturgeon, rockfish, American shad (white shad), hickory shad, alewife herring and blueback herring. The Chesapeake blue crab will awaken from its winter slumber and start to crawl around the bottom on warm days. A sure sign that spring is just around the corner, we received our first live soft crabs from the St John’s River in Florida on Friday. If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford them ($6.50 ea.).
Winter storms have had a significant effect on prices across the seafood spectrum. As we get towards the end of March, cold fronts will become less frequent and many small boats will be able to get out and fish variety will increase. Even salmon farms are not immune to stormy weather. As net pens are being moved out of protected bays and coves and located much farther offshore, there are days when weather conditions prevent any harvest of salmon whatsoever. When a company like True North salmon cancels a 300,000 lb. salmon harvest during Lent (because of weather), it causes real panic in the seafood industry, not to mention the accompanying price increase. Back to back blizzards after Christmas in Nova Scotia basically ended the Cape Bretton lobster season a few weeks early. This caught many people by surprise and tightened supply on several key lobster products. Let’s hope the worst of the winter weather is behind us. Chesapeake Bay declared a “National Treasure” – Executive Order 13508
On May 12th
2009, President Obama signed executive order 13508, declaring the entire Chesapeake Bay estuary a “National Treasure” http://executiveorder.
chesapeakebay.net/ “By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America and in furtherance of the purposes of the Clean Water Act of 1972, as amended (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.), and other laws, and to protect and restore the health, heritage, natural resources, and social and economic value of the Nation's largest estuarine ecosystem and the natural sustainability of its watershed, it is hereby ordered as follows“
This order will prove to be a turning point in the ecological restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The reason it will be different than previous attempts to restore the Bay is that it targets the restoration of oyster “reefs” in the Chesapeake. By doing this you are managing the ecosystem as a whole, not one species at a time, as was previously done.
On February 14, 2013, just two weeks ago, the US Army Corp of Engineers, in partnership with the state of Maryland, along with the Commonwealth of Virginia, and their shared partners, has finalized the “Native Oyster Master Restoration Plan”. The master plan outlines the Corps’ strategy for large scale oyster reef restoration throughout the Chesapeake and its tributaries. They are devoting two billion dollars to restore native oyster habitat and populations in 20 tributaries by 2025.
Oyster reefs create vibrant living communities and are the “cornerstone” in rebuilding the health of the Chesapeake Bay environment. If we had enough shellfish in the Bay to adequately filter the water, it would start a chain reaction of positive environmental effects that would benefit every living organism in the Bay. Sunlight would penetrate to the bottom in three to five feet of water causing the seeds of submerged aquatic vegetation (which can lay dormant on the bottom of the Bay up to 40 years) to germinate. SAV provides escape cover for juvenile fish and crabs. SAV, through photosynthesis, puts oxygen back in to the water column and consumes CO2. SAV calms the water and helps prevent shoreline erosion, reducing sedimentation. These are just a few of the many benefits of a robust oyster population.
The Army Corps will restore oyster reefs with native wild Chesapeake (crassostrea virginica) oysters. Oyster aquaculture will also play a significant role in the restoration effort. The oyster aquaculture industry in the Maryland waters of the Chesapeake is a fledgling industry. There are only 13 growers currently operating, mostly because the oyster laws were changed for the first time in 100 years only recently, making it easier for people to aquaculture oysters in Maryland. We plan on featuring these growers in a forum this summer in DC where you can meet and greet and hear their stories. As you can see, serving local oysters on your menu either live or shucked is good for business and great for the environment. WILD ROCKFISH
We and our Virginia fishermen are awaiting the mad rush of big jumbo migratory rockfish to come charging out of the ocean and up the Bay towards their “home rivers” to spawn. At this point they haven’t shown up. One of my fishermen said to me yesterday after a disappointing morning tending his nets, “I don’t know where these big fish are. I think if we catch’em they’re gonna have to come out of the sky, cause they ain’t gonna come out of the water”.
Let’s hope the 77-year-old Mr. Doug Jenkins of Warsaw, Virginia is wrong about that. The latest I can recall these fish ever “hit” was March 9th
about 4 years ago after a very cold winter. Maryland just finished filling their gill-net quota for February last week. They are closed commercially until June 1 when pound-net season starts. We will rely solely on Virginia caught rockfish this month with a few Delaware rock by the end of March. Prices should collapse soon. March is typically the least expensive rock prices of the year. ATLANTIC SALMON
In 2012, Chilean salmon producers re-entered the market and pushed salmon prices way down. In some cases, prices were pushed below their operating costs and many farms are in bad financial shape right now. Fast forward 6 months and it would be safe to say the Atlantic salmon market is on fire. There are severe shortages of product and prices have risen over 30% on whole fish since the first of the year. Some but not all of the price hikes are due to demand from Lent. But the reality is the salmon farms just don’t have that many fish in the water of harvestable size, and they are in no hurry to pull them out. We will be selling whole fish in the mid $4’s (depending on the size) for the first time in a while and fillets will be right at the $7 mark. Hopefully relief will come before summer. LOCAL SUMMER FLOUNDER - FLUKE
Fluke are one of the few bright spots, from a price perspective, on the fresh fish scene right now. Virginia trawl season on flounder opens Monday (3/4) for about ONE MILLION lbs. The trip limits are 12,500 lbs., meaning that each boat can catch 6 TONS of fluke and then must return to the dock to unload. The captain must wait two weeks before he is allowed to fish again (2 trips per month). One of our main suppliers of fluke is “Red” at Chincoteague Fisheries. He just told me he has 17 boats that are going to unload this week alone. If you multiply 17 boats times 6 ½ ton per boat, it is not hard to figure he is going to be buried in fish. Virginia trawl season should allow for a steady supply of fresh local flounder for at least the next eight weeks. Last year the season closed April 30th
. Take advantage of this great local fish now, as fluke during the summer are scarce and expensive. BLACK SEA BASS
Some of the trawl boats (the ones with bass permits) are allowed a 10% “bycatch” of black sea bass. Most of these will be large and jumbo black sea bass. Prices have been high, but if enough boats land at the same time, the market will drop quickly. Stay in touch with your sales rep as you won’t want to miss an opportunity to serve this very tasty fish. LIVE LOBSTER
Like the Atlantic salmon market, the live lobster market is rocketing towards double figures. The culprit is primarily Mother Nature. Besides the frequent storms and high winds that prevent any fishing pressure, the extreme cold slows the lobster’s metabolism to the point where they hardly move. If they don’t move, they don’t get caught. Therefore, the only source for live lobster becomes the pounds. And the owners of pounds use any excuse to raise the price. Chix and quarters were almost $9 last week with deuces pushing $11. Unfortunately relief will only come when spring arrives up there in mid to late April. AMERICAN SHAD
Currently we are receiving American shad (Alosa sapidissima) from the Neuse River in North Carolina. Our founding father, George Washington actually fished for American shad on the Potomac River and the word “sapidissima” means “most delicious”. The shad swim from the ocean through either Hatteras inlet or Oregon inlet, through the Pamlico Sound and then up the Neuse River. They spawn in freshwater. Other rivers we receive American shad (also known as white shad) from are the Waccamaw River, Savanah River, and Delaware River (later this spring). Jump on this local delicacy now, as the shad are pretty much gone by early April. FRESH CRABMEAT
Procuring fresh domestic crabmeat has been a tall order lately. Old Man Winter has the crabs still sleeping throughout the eastern seaboard in much of the Gulf. Availability should get progressively better each week this month with the warmer weather. By early April we could see some Maryland production. Venezuela is cranking out moderate amounts of meat. When domestic production eventually increases later, we should get some price relief. Pasteurized prices continue to fall and will represent a value, as compared to fresh, soon.