The North American Seafood Expo, the new moniker for the longtime Boston Seafood Show, was held mid-month as fishmongers from all over the globe displayed their wares. Salmon producers, farmers and suppliers regaled their brands with fancy displays belying the undercurrent of turbulent waters. Chile, expecting solid demand with the upcoming Lenten season, saw prices soar over $1 in late January only to plummet downward a short time later. Global supply, even though some regions are cutting production, has increased since 2011, but so have prices, indicating massive demand for salmon, especially in China and Russia. Chilean producers predict less demand for salmon in April, not a great stretch, and production in Chile reaches a normal lull at this time of year, but some companies plan for a significant decrease in the number of salmon coming out of the water. The market should react with a slight increase in prices.
Scottish and Norwegian supply is strong, and prices have actually dipped recently. Our direct connection to Scottish Sea Farms brings two to three container loads directly to Denver. Similarly, direct flights from Iceland deliver premium Norwegian salmon. Our Scottish farms have recently achieved ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) certification. Displaying the ASC logo assures consumers that labeled seafood can be traced back through the entire supply chain to farms that have been deemed to be responsibly managed and ensure no product substitution has occurred. Scottish salmon sizes are good, with whole fish averaging in the 6-9 kg range.
Spring, even though arrival was marked with snow flurries, reminds those of us in the fish industry that wild salmon production is around the corner. We received a small shipment of troll kings last week. Price was very firm, but the few fish we had were gobbled up. Bristol Bay, the world’s largest wild salmon producer, hosted a get-together in Boston, predicting good supply to fill our customers’ needs. Spring Columbia River kings are starting to show in greater supply, and Copper Rivers will open in mid-May for sockeyes and kings.
Farm raised trout continues to be a consumer favorite and margin driver for both restaurants and retail counters. Pricing is constant with best value in head-on dressed trout, on ad in many of your favorite retail stores. Most popular in the restaurant scene are butterflied pin bone out fillets with great plate coverage. Fillets are offered in both rainbow and red-fleshed variety. Steelhead prices, however, are climbing again. Chile will see less trout production in 2014, which will apply pressure to the Pacific Northwest farms. In Chile, there are a limited amount of licenses to grow fish, and while trout’s grow-out cycle is 12 to 15 months as opposed to salmon’s 15 to 20 months, its top growth is 2.3 to 3 kilos as opposed to salmon’s average of 4 to 5. More weight per unit, greater return on investment and hence better use of a license is salmon. Our premium, and extremely popular, steelhead is Scottish Loch Etive, a fatty, succulent, sustainably raised trout from Northern Argyll on the west coast of Scotland.
Catfish farmers continue to experience tight supply and are discouraging retail ads through May. Our supplier is taking extraordinary measures to maintain adequate numbers for our customers. Farm raised catfish is likely the safest fish we can eat, as consumers are protected by the USDA and the FDA, which oversees safety for all seafood. Problem is, the USDA has yet to inspect any catfish, a program that will cost American taxpayers more that $14 million this year alone. Proponents say food safety is critical, but most see it as a boondoggle and not even a good disguise, only a thinly veiled attempt to keep competitive foreign imports out of the country. We agree, and we also support the U.S. Farm raised catfish industry. Superior farming and excellent quality is why we buy and is the reason domestic catfish farmers don’t need wasteful props.
The halibut season is well underway, and 1 million pounds of the total allowable catch (TAC) of the Alaska quota has been harvested. Rough seas and high wind warnings may cause fewer landings this week, keeping prices firm. We expect prices for the year to stay at current levels with minimal shift. Freezers are virtually empty, so fishermen can shift their catch to the frozen market during periods when excess volume is landed, keeping demand and price steady. Put halibut on your spring and summer menus or retail ads; it’s great quality and a consumer favorite.
A few wild Alaska kings were landed this last week and made their way to our dock. Prices are still high, but these Chinooks are from very short trip boats, quality is excellent and we even received some excellent ivory kings. Columbia River is set to ramp up production, arguably providing some of the fattest, tastiest kings of the year. Expect Seattle Fish Company to be your wild salmon connection this season. Bristol Bay, a remote fishery at the easternmost arm of the Bering Sea, is home to the world’s largest sockeye run. This spring Seattle Fish Company will provide huge volume of sockeye from Bristol, Prince William Sound, Copper River and other regions to fill retail coffers and restaurant kitchens. Sockeye is a wild salmon, and 70% of the commercial sockeye harvest is of hatchery origin. For those of you looking for a truly unique genetic species created only by nature over millions of years, Seattle Fish Company will partner with smaller family artisan producers, paying top dollar to fishermen for live bled and iced fish, best the area has to offer. Expect slightly higher prices, but a true sea to table path.
The Alaska cod season has closed to commercial fishing, but by catch will continue. The balance of the ground fishery in Alaska and Canada should improve as fishermen get a break from winter weather. Adequate supply of rock cod, shallow water dover sole, arrow tooth flounder and petrale sole is available. Sablefish, very tight recently, is starting to flow through the system. Further south, Bodega Bay fishermen are hoping for a more substantial king salmon catch this season. Good news from the southern Pacific is that fresh Mexican bay scallops may soon be available. Small corvina is running as is yellowtail and grouper. The Mexican Shrimp season is closed, and we have secured volume in all sizes for your spring and summer use. Prices are still firm for remaining inventory and not likely to decrease, depending on the gulf season, three months away. Globally, even though the cause of EMS, Early Mortality Syndrome, is recognized, eradication and prevention is down the road. Early shrimp harvest to avoid mortalities is the norm, and smaller sizes have taken a small cost dip. What does the price crystal ball predict? Good question. While experts expect higher prices to continue, lower demand in the coming months combined with higher production could cause companies with inventory to flood the market and crash prices.
The 2014 East Coast scallop season did actually open March 1, but not sure anyone believes that actually occurred. Prices for large sizes have continued to climb. A month into the season, the major issue is inadequate landings from the Mid-Atlantic, and more importantly actual harvest is producing very few U-8, U-10 and U-12s, a chef’s most popular size. Additionally, harvests have produced some scallops not meeting quality standards, somewhat typical from the Mid-Atlantic area. We should see improvement as the more northern sites are opened to fishing. March weather has also hindered the industry as boats needing 15,000 lbs. to break even are coming home with 3,000 to 8,000 lbs. Record-high prices are likely to continue for the next 2-4 weeks. Necessary to break that cycle are better weather, more vessels fishing and, the biggest reason, white-tablecloth, fine dining restaurants pulling scallops from their menu or moving to smaller sizes.
Ground fishing from our New England fishermen remains adequate against quiet demand. Haddock fishery is starting its spawn cycle, producing softer fillets, but monkfish and large dab fillets are available. A wild stripe bass opener from Virginia just closed, but not before yielding superior large fish and the most reasonable prices of the year. If you have not taken advantage, call your sales rep today and get it while lasts.
Early last month we predicted very high lobster prices to continue through mid-May. While prices did increase, they did not go as high as experts thought and have actually receded, especially for the larger sizes. Reasons cited are adequate catch and softer demand. We like it when our predictions are a bit off, especially when you, our valued customers, benefit.
We are seeing limited variety but decent volume for oysters off the west coast. The current crops of Barron Points, Eagles, Pickering and Hammersley have dwindled while Eld Inlet and Jorstad are completely cleared of mature oysters. We have filled in the gaps with Flapjack Points, Calm Cove, Sisters Point, Big Cove and Treasure Islands. Kumamotos and Kusshis are also available in adequate quantity. There has been very little in the way of tides, and the entire month of March produced zero negative tides. Good tide/bad tide is critical for the ebb and flow in oyster maturation. The good news is that a good crop of mature triploids should be ready for summer oyster spawn season, and many other varieties will be available as we move to summer and fall. The east coast is yielding adequate supply and variety, but the Mid-Atlantic varieties have been very short due to unexpected cold winter. Mid-Atlantics and Barcats have been especially hard hit, resulting in higher prices and significantly less volume. Canadian production is limited until the spring thaw arrives. Judging by the “hundred year blizzard” that hit northeastern Canada this past weekend, they may never thaw out.
Roaming the vast puzzle of aisles and vendors showing their wares at the recent North American Seafood Expo in Boston recently, I was happy to meet the farmer who expertly raises one of my favorite oysters, Wianno Bay. Having just harvested earlier in the morning, I tried my and 12 other people’s share and each were the same delicious morsel, characterized by a unique sweet flavor combined with that great brine of the southern Cape Cod region in which they are raised. Wiannos are grown in racks and bags slightly off the bottom exposed at low tide, helping form that perfect deep cup. Wianno oysters are sustainably raised by hand and carefully monitored from seedlings to full growth. Ask for a bag today, and if you haven’t tried them, your taste buds will thank you when you do.
Prince Edward Island mussels will be short until mid-week due to the aforementioned storm. We will have domestic mussels available until the bridge reopens. The Bangs Island mussel boys continue to upgrade their facility and harvest techniques. Family owned, Bangs are among the sweetest, most plump mussels on the planet. Once a week, harvest will continue for the short term until improvements are complete. The Bangs Island mussels mate in the cold waters of Casco Bay where it intersects with the gulf stream creating a nutrient rich environment from the excellent tidal exchanges; the perfect storm in the mussel growing region. Hard shell clams from Dennis, Massachusetts and manila clams from the Northwest Pacific round out our stock shellfish offerings. Other specialty shellfish come in the form of blood clams, razors and geoducks. These varieties are more dependent on tides, and availability is more limited.
Crawfish, a New Orleans mainstay, is off to a slow start this year. Colder than normal weather this winter has slowed growth, so the animals are smaller and more expensive. Cold temperatures have also stifled the gulf tuna catch, but the fleet is slowly finding its targets again. The decline in mahi production started early this season; availability is scarce and prices have nearly doubled from winter lows. Grouper has been closed in many regions of the Gulf, hindering our Gulf Wild grouper availability. We have filled in with Pacific grouper. Gulf Wild American red snapper is available and regular shipments are arriving, each fish individually tagged with catch information. Take a look at the tag number, go to mygulfwild.com and get firsthand location of catch, name of the boat and boat captain. All Gulf Wild fishermen adhere to catch shares, helping to ensure the long-term viability of the Gulf Reef Fishery. Gulf grouper and American Red Snapper have recently been upgraded by The Seafood Watch from red, or avoid to yellow, good alternative. Tilapia supply has been slashed during Lent with excessive demand, but volume is slowly returning to normal. If you are not on board with our Open Blue Cobia, try a loin today. With excellent sweet flavor and texture perfect for the grill, Open Blue is sustainably raised in open water pens far off the coast of Panama in pristine blue waters.
Winter has kept its icy grip on the Great Lakes region. Walleye catch has been very limited, but we have found a few windows of opportunity to bring some lake fish to the table. May 1 is the typical kickoff for the Great Lakes fishery of whitefish, lake perch, buffalo, carp and other species in addition to the favored walleye. We will keep you posted on the spring thaw.
Tuna prices have been through the roof at the Hawaiian auctions with number 1s fetching over $15 per lb. whole head on. Volume in Honolulu has been low, so more incoming boats with tuna catch should help alleviate the situation. Swordfish has been running and sword loins are reasonably priced. Shark bit swords, not passing as a number 1, are cut into loins with bloodline removed. Prices are favorable and quality is very good, preferred by our retail partners. Good news for Hawaiian Kampachi lovers is that fish are getting bigger. Bad news is there is still only one harvest a week, but we are getting closer to two per week. We should be in full swing by summer travel time.