This Week in Seafood: January 13, 2020

This Week in Seafood: January 13, 2020

THEY CAUGHT SO MANY FRESH SHRIMP LAST WEEK IN NORTH CAROLINA, THEY TOLD THE BOATS TO STOP! In a scenario that seems to be the “new normal” now in winter in Carolina (because of climate change), some of the highest shrimp catches of the year now come in January. In the “good ole’ days” not so long ago when winter arrived in Carolina in early December, shrimpers quit shrimping just before Thanksgiving. Now, because the shrimp populations are moving north, the boats have figured out they can intercept the massive amounts of shrimp migrating south out of Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake Bay. There is no commercial shrimping in the Delaware or Chesapeake Bay…YET.  Virginia just granted only 4 shrimping permits for the entire state in 2020. So, the shrimp bask all summer in the sun unmolested up here and the shrimp population in both the Delaware & Chesapeake Bay is exploding. The Carolina boats are waiting in the ocean right on the Virginia/Carolina line off Corolla Light and set their trawl nets literally 100 yards off the sand on the beach. LAST WEEK, the fishing vessel “Little Sammy”, out of Englehard, NC was out for only 3 DAYS and caught 50,000 POUNDS OF FRESH SHRIMP! He said he would tow the net for an hour and have almost 4 TONS of shrimp! But there is a problem. The shrimp are headed manually by hand. 90% of the workers have 9-month H2B visas and most went home after Christmas. So, there is no one to take the heads off all these shrimp. The buyers told the boat captains not to go anymore for now but if they decided to go, they would be paid the “bait market” price of 80 cents per pound for head on shrimp. Sadly, the 50-foot FISHING VESSEL “PAPPA’S GIRL” sunk last Tuesday night in heavy seas in the Pamlico Sound only 4 miles from her dock in Englehard, illustrating just how dangerous this profession is. She had been trawling in the ocean for shrimp and had 7 TONS OF SHRIMP on board when the box (with the shrimp in it) broke loose and slid to one side and instantly capsized the boat. The captain and two of the three crew members died in the accident.

2. FISHING “HANGOVER” FROM HOLIDAY’S MEANS VERY FEW FRESH FISH AROUND – Because most fishermen come in for Xmas and take an extended vacation after, across many major seafood sectors prices have spiked, even though demand is very low. High winds along the entire Gulf (60 mph Saturday pm in Panama City, FL) and Atlantic have exacerbated the situation and kept most fishermen, who actually wanted to fish, tied up on shore. TUNA, SWORD, LOBSTERS, SNAPPER, GROUPER & WILD HALIBUT have all been affected. 

3. NO DOMESTIC TUNA BOATS OUT – PRICES SKYROCKETING – Cold fronts with high winds from the north followed by warm fronts with gale force southerly winds are keeping fishermen at the dock in the Gulf and fresh tuna prices are getting stupid high. This is TYPICAL for January, but this period of fish scarcity could be extended because of extreme weather.

4. LOBSTERS UP AGAIN FOR CHINESE NEW YEAR — It comes as no surprise that the world’s most populous nation, China, now buys more lobster from Canada than the US does! Canadian lobster sales to China have risen 123% since 2017. That said, U.S. consumers are now paying the price for competing with China for this uniquely Maine & Canadian luxury item. Virtually all lobster products (tail & meat) are squarely in the $2.50 an ounce category and no price relief is even remotely anywhere on the horizon. Sorry to be so depressing – next big season is May 1 in Southwest Nova. Chinese New Year is just around the corner (Jan 25), so lobster prices are set to climb each week until then.

5. LOCAL FISH ARE A VALUE – Maryland drift net fishermen only have 60 days (Jan 1 – Feb 28) to catch their yearly allotment (quota) and so they are busy catching lots of 5-6 lb. average fish and sending them to market (there are no big rock to speak of in the Bay now). Business is understandably slow, so prices are depressed. Add Virginia rock fishermen to the mix starting January 15 and the stage is set for wild rock to become an extreme value all month and next. LOCAL JUMBO FLOUNDER are being packed out in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and their fillets remain a relative value around the $12 mark.

6. ATLANTIC SALMON MARKET IS WAY SHORT ON FISH – The 3 million salmon that died in late August at Northern Harvest’s Fortune Bay site, represented 40% of Atlantic Canada’s salmon production. Over the “pond” in Norway, they are critically short of big fish (6 kg or larger), and those prices have gone berserk ($6 plus on whole fish). They (the Norwegians) went out last week to some “new generation” pens expecting them to be 4-5 kg and they were too small to harvest. That is not good news. With Lent starting in less than a month, salmon prices will almost certainly rise with the increase in demand.

7. OYSTER PRICES DROP FINALLY – There seems to be way more oysters on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay than anyone had anticipated. That is the good news but the sky-high prices of shucked gallons throughout last fall has killed demand in both the retail and food service sectors. Buyers cut prices at the dock and dropped gallon prices about 5% this week but I feel that is too little too late to do any good. Oystermen can only work the bars 4 days a week (no oystering allowed on Wednesdays as mandated by the DNR to conserve oysters). But even with that abbreviated schedule, buyers still have days of “no market” – meaning they tell their oystermen they are not buying any oysters that particular day.

 8. PALAU CREATES ONE OF THE LARGEST MARINE SANCTUARIES IN THE WORLD – The tiny archipelago of Palau, in the western Pacific Ocean, passed a marine sanctuary law, which took effect on 1 January, 2020, and covers an area of about 500,000 square kilometers. The remaining 20 percent of the nation’s EEZ will be designated the domestic fishing zone (DFZ), where fishing will be allowed.  According to Dr. Golbuu of the Palau International Coral Reef Center, “with the decline of fish stocks over the years, we did it to help ourselves. We did it to strengthen our food security. We closed 80 percent of our waters so that we can reap the benefits that spill over to 20 percent. We did it to protect our source of healthy protein that is seafood and to ensure that it sustained and available for us now and future generations.”  You will see more of this going forward. We have a few marine sanctuaries in US waters and conservationists are pushing for many more. As expected, it is a highly contentious issue here at home between competing “user groups” (commercial, environmental, recreational) almost every time the courts ultimately decide what happens in each case.

9. VENZ CRABMEAT PRICES – In the failed state we now know as Venezuela, the extreme shortage and rationing of gas is preventing the regular harvest of blue crabs. So, as we expected prices to fall in January, it looks like they are going to rise slightly this week.

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