This Week in Seafood: November 18, 2019

This Week in Seafood: November 18, 2019

US DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE DECLARES GULF OYSTER FISHERY A DISASTER – First in 2005 it was Hurricane Katrina. Then in 2010 there was the BP Horizon oil spill. This year the Mississippi River was in flood stage a record 123 days in a row.  In September, the US DOC determined that Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi were suffering a “catastrophic regional fishery disaster” making businesses in those states eligible for federal assistance. Louisiana, in a normal year, produces A THIRD of the US total oyster production. They won’t even come close to that this year. Many areas of Louisiana are closed for oystering until fall of 2021. Oyster prices have skyrocketed across the country. Oysters, traditionally cheap and plentiful, are more central to the restaurant and cooking culture of the Gulf Coast than to that of any other region of the US. 

“IT’S RAINING OYSTERS” – That was the quote last week from Harry Phillips, owner of Russell Hall Seafood, while unloading oyster boats at his oyster buying station in Hoopers Island Maryland. When it finally stopped raining this summer in mid-July, and the salt wedge (salinity gradient) came up the Bay, oyster growth exploded over the last 12 weeks of summer (late July thru late October). If you take a close look at the oysters Harry is buying off his dock, they show at least a 1/2 to 3/4 inch or more growth this summer! There were lots of 2-2.25 inch oysters on the bottom of the Honga River that hadn’t grown at all in over a year because of 2 successive years of record rainfall. When the rains finally stopped and salinity returned to “normal”, the oysters did what they do best – they grew! This does not mean that the Bay’s oyster population is in good shape – it is not. But it does remind us just how quickly “Mother Nature” can rebound given the right environmental conditions.

VIRGINIA FRESH SHRIMP? Yes, that is correct! Last week we got in our very first 200 lb. shipment of fresh head-on shrimp from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Chincoteague Island. While there has been a shrimp industry in North Carolina for decades, Virginia seems to be on the verge of creating a new industry, fresh local Virginia shrimp! It is easy to document the northward movement of hundreds of species as our oceans warm. It seems that the Carolina shrimp are moving north into the Chesapeake Bay and even the Delaware Bay. Fresh shrimp season looks to be ending in the next few weeks with the onset of cold temperatures but the future (Virginia gave out 4 commercial shrimp permits this year) looks bright for a new local seafood item that virtually all your customers will love!

WEST COAST OYSTER GALLONS SAVING CUSTOMERS $40 PER GALLON! – With east coast gallons of oysters selling for over $100 per gallon, many die-hard east oyster lovers are taking a very close look at shucked gallons of selects and counts for only $69 per gallon! Many of our oyster “connoisseur” customers cannot tell the difference!

UK STUDENT WINS JAMES DYSON AWARD BY USING FISH WASTE TO PRODUCE A SINGLE USE BIOPLASTIC! Lucy Hughes, a graduate student at the University of Sussex, beat out over 1000 other entrants and won the prestigious 2019 James Dyson Award for her invention of MarinaTex bioplastic. It is a single use plastic, made from fish scales and fish skins, that biodegrades on its own in only 4-6 weeks! Lucy, who has always loved the ocean, said she was motivated to find a solution when she found out that by 2050 the weight of all plastics in the ocean will be greater than the weight of all the fish that swim in the ocean !!!!  Think about that statistic for a minute. She also said that the waste from one Atlantic cod is enough to produce 1400 MarinaTex sandwich bags! 

VENZ CRABBERS ON STRIKE! VENZ CRABMEAT MARKET REBOUNDS HARD – When word filtered back to Lake Maracaibo of the extraordinarily low prices of last week, the crabbers immediately went on strike. This year’s crash was almost identical to last year – the season opens in late October –  Venezuelan producers pick as hard as they can and ship boatloads into Miami – the price starts off too high and consumption is weak – producers panic and dump crabmeat at very discounted prices – picking houses stop picking and shipping to Miami – prices hit bottom (last week) and start to rise this week- at just over a $1 per ounce it is still an EXTREME VALUE!

NEW ITEM – HPP RAW LOBSTER MEAT! – High Pressure Pasteurization machines (HPP) are making their way into many aspects of the seafood industry. Lobster processing seems to be the next frontier for that. Several processors in Portland Maine are putting whole claws and knuckles in the HPP machine and producing raw CK meat in frozen 2 lb. packages. ONCE cooked lobster meat has superior flavor and texture. Contact your sales rep if you are interested — item code # 900501

SCALLOPS – Capt. Derrick of the fishing vessel F/V “SECOND TO NONE” out of Ocean City Maryland, met his allotted quota and has pulled his scallop dredge up for the year which means our Dayboat Scallop program has come to an end for 2019. In the meantime, we have some great Dry Scallop options for you to use. Our U/12 domestic scallops are caught from a New Bedford, MA fleet and hand packed in 8 pound metal tins daily. We also have beautiful 10/20 Hokkaido scallops from the pristine waters of Hokkaido Japan. These scallops are “Chef Packed” in an environmentally friendly Eco Pail in Portland, ME. We also carry domestic large U/10’s as well as our extra-large U/8’s for a real WOW factor! If you’re looking for a substitute for the scarce and over-priced Nantucket scallops, check out our Peruvian Bay Scallops. These little delicacies brown up nicely in a pan and have a natural sugar content high enough to be a real crowd pleaser. We’ll be back on the local Ocean City dayboat scallops next Spring.


WILD HALIBUT MARKET JUMPS (storms) – TIME TO LOOK AT NORWEGIAN FARMED HALIBUT — It is the time of year when weather is the dominant factor affecting wild halibut supplies. If you ventured outside this weekend, I am sure you felt the GALE FORCE (40 mph +) winds Saturday and Sunday. If you’re thinking about halibut for HOLIDAY MENUS, our farmed Norwegians are the ticket. They are big, 7-12 kilos head off, and so fresh they literally don’t bend. They taste great and are priced under the wild market during the winter months, generally speaking. So, to recap, they are always available, incredibly fresh, taste fantastic and value priced. What is not to love?


VALUE PRICED LOCAL FLUKE! Stuff your turkey with local hand cut jumbo flounder fillets! For just over 50 cents per ounce, this local favorite can easily be topped with CRAB IMPERIAL! YUM!


LOCAL JUMBO BLACK SEA BASS FILLETS STILL $12.99! IMO One of the best tasting fish that swim in the ocean – they rarely get this cheap so take advantage while you can!

STURGEON CAVIAR STORY WITH HAPPY ENDING — Imagine the “Nickel Lunch” served in the Bars and Saloons of 19th century America. Salt laden foods of dubious quality that provoked the palettes of their patrons to imbibe. One of the often-served items was salted fish roe. The roe was from sturgeon. It would be a stretch to call this caviar but none the less it would qualify. Sturgeon were once so abundant in the USA that the flesh was pickled and shipped in barrels “Hogs Heads” to feed our growing population in an economic fashion. Cheap food to be precise. The Potomac river as well as the Hudson river were once large production areas. The phrase “Albany Beef” was coined to describe it.  Alas, this noble fish could not withstand the amount of fishing inflicted upon it and by the end of the 19th century our resources had collapsed. This is the sad story that occurs all over the world. But it is not the end of the story. Here are a few facts. The largest sturgeon ever harvested came from the Volga river in Russia in 1827. It weighed 3463 lbs.! Sturgeon can live for more than 100 years. Some think they may live closer to 200. They are ancient. Fossilized remains dating back more than 200 million years have been discovered. Twenty-seven species once populated the world but the demand for caviar has led to the extinction of some species and left many others in a critical state. Many sturgeon are 20 years or older before they reproduce. As a given population is fished down below their reproductive age that becomes the threshold for collapse. This is a formidable fish in the wild but it is no match for its human predator. Caviar is esteemed globally, and this is the root of overharvesting. Add habitat destruction and pollution to this and you see how much is going against this animal. The value of this fish may well be its salvation. Successful farming efforts have taken root globally. Farm raised sturgeon are producing caviar to the point where market prices are actually reducing. Farmed sturgeon are being produced in large enough quantities to offer sturgeon meat commercially as well as the caviar. Our stake in this effort comes from STERLING CAVIAR! They produce our indigenous Pacific White Sturgeon. This magnificent fish inhabits an area that ranges from Baja to southwest Alaska. They farm their fish near Sacramento, California. Their caviar and sturgeon meat are a testament to what fish farming should be. Environmentally sound practices that produce commercially viable results which taste great.

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