The Week in Seafood: January 20, 2020

The Week in Seafood: January 20, 2020

1. ATLANTIC SALMON MARKET WAY SHORT OF FISH AND RISING FAST – A warehouse collapse and missed harvests due to weather has the salmon market in a tizzy. EXPECT DOUBLE DIGIT PRICE INCREASES. The global shortage of Atlantic salmon is the consequence of several factors. The normal surge in holiday demand combined with a constriction of supply did not improve in the new year as expected but became acutely worse. The supply Chilean salmon fillets that fuel the marketplace for reasonably priced salmon was severely constricted when one of the two main holding facilities in Santiago collapsed. Salmon has been backlogged for ten days now. When this gets back to normal is uncertain. Canadian production on the East coast has been severely reduced by the massive die off (as much as 3,000,000 fish) that occurred at Mowi’s Northern Harvest sites in Newfoundland and Labrador in October. This could account for as much as a 40% loss of East coast Canadian production. Adding to this is the shortage of fillet size fish in Norway. The 4-6 kg range of whole salmon that produce 3/4 and 4/5 lb. fillets were expected to be lower than pre-holiday quantities but it turned out to be worse. The fish are smaller than expected. Large salmon (14+) were expected to be in short supply everywhere. This is exacerbated by the beginning of high demand for large salmon in Asia for the Chinese New Year on the 25th of January. But all the news is not bad. The Chilean backlog will eventually abate and the amount of salmon there is substantial. This will enter our market at some point and the volume will no doubt push down prices. Norway reports above average water temperatures that will make their fish grow faster. Larger than expected fish were harvested this weekend and prices should move down by this coming weekend. Overall, prices for the first quarter this year will likely be above average. Lent will follow Chinese New Year and this will sustain market demand in many countries. Chilean fillets are the key. We expect prices to adjust down at some point. But whole fish, particularly (8-12 lb.), will remain expensive through January. The Chileans have noticed the opportunity and are increasing the amount of whole fish shipped here. Canada will remain short so Norway is the key player for the 8-12 lb. range of whole salmon. Lets hope the dollar remains strong and the fish grow fast.

2. “JUMBO” WILD ROCK WON’T BE AS JUMBO ANYMORE – It is no secret that the wild rockfish population on the Atlantic coast is declining and the “JUMBO” rock (15-30 lb. fish) are in especially bad shape. Virginia fishermen used to catch a lot of those jumbo rock in years past during the February and March spawning runs. But fishery managers want to conserve those fish because they are important “breeding” fish with thousands of eggs. So they changed the regulations regarding the size mesh net the fishermen can use – prior to this year they used 10″ mesh gill net that would catch those jumbo 15-30 lb. fish but now they can only use 7″ net and the biggest fish that will “gill” in that size net will be about 10-12 lbs.


3. NEWSFLASH! FISHERY MANAGEMENT ACTUALLY WORKS – Dr. Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington and his 21 co-authors have just published a major study on fisheries management in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The report has a simple scientific message. Fishery management WORKS! Nearly half of all global fish stocks are scientifically monitored and some type of management regime is in place. These stocks are increasing, not declining. According to the new analysis, management is the primary reason these stocks are at sustainable levels or are successfully rebuilding. Dr Hilborn says, “There is a narrative that fish stocks are declining around the world, that fishery management is failing and we need new solutions. And it’s totally wrong” the reality is that fish stocks are increasing in many places, and we know how to solve problems through effective fisheries management.


4. HAWAIIAN SWORDFISH RETURN AFTER 9 MONTH BREAK – In a stark example of how we hold our domestic fishermen’s “feet to the fire”, consider this story. The Hawaiian swordfish fishery operates under some of the strictest sea turtle conservation measures of any pelagic long line fishery.  The fishery closed on March 19 last year after reaching the logger head sea turtle cap of 17 interactions. 99% of turtle interactions in the fishery result in the turtle being released alive but yet the fishery was still closed. The logger head turtle population, which nests in Japan, is growing at an annual rate of 2.4%. The Hawaiian sword fishery is well managed and considered very sustainable. Hawaiian sword fisherman catch 55% of US sword production and supply 14% of the total US market.

5. TUNA PRICES IN THE STRATOSPHERE – Whole tuna prices for 1’s and 2+’s are painfully high. No steady production in the Gulf of Mexico has people scrambling for any fish they can find around the world – prices keep rising. Just regular 2+ loins will be in the $15 range this week (ouch!) – #1 loins are just under $20 – consensus is tuna prices will stay this elevated through January


6. VENZ PRICES NOT FALLING AS EXPECTED – The gasoline crisis in Venezuela is ironic in that a country so rich in oil has so little gasoline now. There are plenty of crabs in Lake Maracaibo but the fishermen don’t have any gas to catch any crabs.

7. LOBSTER PRICES REMAIN HIGH – Domestic production has slowed down out of Maine due to high winds and cold water temps. Therefore, most of the live lobsters are coming out of Canada. When the Canadians control the market, the US prices go up. It’s that simple. Boat prices this week are all over $8 on all sizes which equates to wholesale prices all being over $10/lb. It is safe to say lobster prices will remain high through Valentine’s Day. 

8. NOT ALL FISH IS EXPENSIVE – With all the doom and gloom on the above mentioned species we feel it necessary to point out a few more reasonably priced items. Mahi out of Panama has been great quality and is holding a fillet price under $9/lb. The scallop market remains steady – U/10’s are available well below $20/lb. and 10/20’s are in the mid-teens. Peruvian Bay scallops are again a great value item. Try them in your ceviche! Other fish prices that are holding steady include, Norwegian Halibut, local Rockfish, Chesapeake Bay Blue Cats, Turkish bronzino, dorade and Royal bass. 

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