Atlantic prices across the board are on the rise and are likely to stay strong through Labor Day, perhaps longer. Chile is experiencing a production slowdown from major producers, but their main problem seems to be profitability or lack thereof. We have seen very favorable pricing through the summer, and even with a bump, good Atlantic values remain. Canada and the Pacific Northwest are also on the move, especially for larger fish. Fillets over 3 pounds are at a premium. New-generation fish is also the norm in Scotland and Norway, with 6 kg and larger sizes fetching premium pricing. Norway continues to capture a larger share of the U.S. market, snagging 13% of total salmon imports, compared to 9% on the same date last year. Norwegian growth at Seattle Fish Co. is even greater. More good news from our Norwegian salmon farmers: a fully sustainable, certified European organic salmon is now offered through Seattle Fish Co. Prices naturally are higher, but all fish are antibiotic and GMO free. Ask your sales rep for details and pricing. On the Scottish side of premium salmon, we can barely keep up with demand. Bigger sizes will be a challenge through the month. Good news is Scottish production is coming back online, so prices are expected to drop soon. Jet service directly from the source to Denver ensures fresh, superior salmon up to four times weekly. Skuna Bay craft-raised farmed salmon from the icy waters of Nootka Bay in Canada is also breaking volume records. Each thermal-lined, recyclable box of head-on dressed fish or fillets is individually inspected to ensure the highest quality. The wild market is featuring coho salmon as sockeye production starts to dwindle. After a slow start to the sockeye season in Copper River, Bristol Bay had a record-breaking week mid-July, sending prices lower and replenishing frozen coffers. The king salmon market is rebounding after numbers were way off last week. Alaska has filled most of the king quota, and the California season has seen little catch to date. In recent years the California king forecast has evoked much greater optimism than actual catch. Hopefully September numbers are better with Southeast Alaska and the Oregon troll season adding to the mix.
Farm-raised trout is on everyone’s menu, or it should be. Prices are always consistent, sizing is good and variety is excellent. Whether you prefer your trout head-on and dressed; butterflied; or head-off, pin-bone out, Seattle Fish Co. can fill your needs. Also gaining favor is our homegrown Colorado trout. Fish are swimming the day before they are delivered to our dock, and these beautiful rainbows are offered as 14-18 oz. head-on and dressed or as a 6-9 oz. butterfly fillet. Ask for Colorado trout, which is a little pricier, but well worth the value. Don’t forget about our Loch Etive steelhead, harvested in the icy waters off the west coast of Scotland. From the same region, ask about our Scottish steelhead fillets, which are a bit smaller and less expensive than the Loch Etive, with the same flavor and texture as their larger brethren.
U.S. farm-raised catfish production is strong, prices are steady and our major retailers have run ads all summer. Not just a retail fish, catfish is a popular staple with many of our restaurant partners. Our catfish supplier from Itta Bena, Mississippi, processes live catfish harvested daily from clean, freshwater, clay-lined ponds located in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. We provide our customers shank fillets, heads skinned and gutted fish and nuggets.
We are two-thirds through the 2015 Pacific halibut season, with the harvest on pace for a mid-November closure. Prices are firming, and fishermen are adept at doling volume to maintain cost levels. Our Adak, Alaska connection does have a good portion of their quota remaining. FV Selah, captained by Steve Stark, is bringing short-trip catch to port, ready to be chilled and packed for direct shipment to Denver. Do not expect any cost relief the balance of the season for this favored white fish. Overall quota is down this year, and all indications point to a further drop in total allowable catch next season. Many non-halibut vessels are targeting wild salmon, primarily cohos, creating a void in ground fish. Pacific cod has been relegated to a few pot fishermen, but should rebound next month with increased quota available. Rock cod has been adequate, and shallow water dover sole is making a comeback, especially in the San Jose area, where low king harvest has seen boats targeting other species.
King crab prices are on the upswing, with strong retail sales and imports on the decline. Two years ago king crab prices reached record levels. Restaurants took crab off their menu, retailers eschewed ad opportunities and prices fell. Retailers jumped back in big time, and our region is no exception. The Alaska season opens in October, and the question is: Will demand continue? A falling yen in Japan may temper cost and keep price on a plateau, but the new hungry player in the live market is China, likely to drive prices higher in the opinion of some crab experts. More to come.
Good news, finally, for the Mexican Bay scallop season that almost never happened. Steady supply should once again become available later this week. Other catch from Southern California has been rather sparse the past few days, but we are expecting California halibut, yellowtail and grouper for weekend sales. We have touted the rich urchin grounds off Cabrilla Point in San Diego, and our local restaurant friends are taking heed. Sales of live urchin have exploded lately. These same urchin also produce excellent-quality uni. Further south, Mexican fishermen are gearing for the new shrimp season next month. The bay season usually precedes the open-ocean shrimp fishery, but openers will coincide this year. We still maintain in good supply of Mexican shrimp in most sizes, including browns. Nothing quite as distinctive as the crunch and superior flavor of a Mexican shrimp. The worldwide shrimp market is anything but predictable. What logically appeared to be a downturn this year has actually shown an increase of 8% compared to 2014, considered to be a banner year for imports. One possibility is that major importers sitting on early high-priced purchases are buying additional volume hoping to price average and match market cost as the holiday approaches. Now is the prime shrimp buying period for the upcoming season. Our position will be to wait and see, anticipating some continued softness in the market.
Scallop recruitment in the Mid-Atlantic Elephant Trunk area is a bonanza, considered unprecedented. Underwater images have shown up to 350 scallops per square meter. To put into perspective, normal images show one scallop per square meter, so up to 350 is huge. What does this mean? Most of the scallops are about two years old, or two years away from harvest, which is excellent news for the future of the scallop industry. Not so good news is the 2015-16 scallop harvest is on pace to fall short of expectations, and with less availability of imports, pressure on the U.S. market will mount. Larger sizes will be especially hard hit, driving prices to the stratosphere as the season progresses. Fishing continues through the fall and winter but landings historically decline steadily and bottom out by the fourth quarter. Ground fishing remains relatively steady except for previously reported devastation of the New England cod fishery. Adequate supply of sole, haddock and monkfish are reported. Black bass has been virtually nonexistent, but better volume of large wild striped bass has brought prices down. Mackerel, dogfish and red robin have been recent additions to our East Coast menu. The live lobster market is falling, finally, as new shell lobsters are finally shippable. The very cold New England winter resulted in a late start for the Maine season.
Everyone loves summer and wants it to last longer. Unfortunately, oysters have a different mindset, especially on the West Coast. Extreme heat in the Northwest has resulted in several closures due to negative tests for vibrio and water pollutants. New rules this summer call for automatic closures when the water temperatures are above a certain level, regardless of test results. Oyster off the eastern shores are faring somewhat better, with availability limited not by temperatures but by winter kill from the harsh winter. One of our summer stalwarts is Blue Island oyster, farmed from Fire Island Inlet, Great South Bay, Long Island, New York. This oyster is racked and bagged, with exposure to ocean water on the incoming tide and bay water with the outgoing tide. What do we get? A medium- to deep-cup oyster, briny, with a slight mineral finish. Originally referred to as a “Blue Point,” Blue Island oysters are sure to please. Caring for your oysters on delivery is pretty simple: keep them cold dry and well ventilated. Oysters are alive, so don’t store them in those handy stackable closed tubs, and always rotate your stock. Oysters are fun, so get in the game. All shellfish are affected by summer conditions, and mussels are no different. Proper care is the key with mussels; keep refrigerated, very will iced and drained. If you think you have enough ice on your mussels, put on another scoop or two and you will be just about right. Have you tried our Bangs Island mussels lately? The unique story about Bangs Islands are where they come from and the growing method. The gulf stream intersects current from the Gulf of Maine in Casco Bay, home of Bangs Island. Mussels are grown on ropes suspended from specially crafted rafts. Tidal exchange is up to 12 feet, bringing a variety and plethora of nutrients, resulting a sweet, large, full-meat mussel. Try a bag of Bangs Islands today. The winter freeze also wreaked havoc with our hard-shell clams. Littlenecks from Dennis, Massachusetts, are tight, but our longtime supplier has provided adequate quantity for us this summer. In addition to littlenecks we supply cherrystones, pasta necks, and top necks. Ask your sales rep about the full shellfish lineup offered at Seattle Fish Co.
Gulf tuna fell off this week, but excellent quality from other regions is available. In addition to our premium graded tuna we offer a non-graded small tuna at preferred pricing, maintaining very good quality. Swordfish pricing continues to remain steady as the harpoon season winds down. Mahi prices, always elevated in the summer, are especially strong this year. Low volume and high cost make this grill favorite somewhat less desirable. A good alternative for mahi-mahi is California yellowtail. Grouper from our Florida Gulf Wild friends has been very limited lately. Supply from Baja has also been tight the last few days, but is expected to improve later this week. Gulf Wild snapper has been more available with good supply in house. “Gulf Wild,” a term coined by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, represents a group of fishermen aligned to promote and protect sustainable fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. They adhere to quotas and catch shares, individually tag each fish, indicating the location of catch, the fishing vessel and the captain. Full transparency and accountability is their purpose. The alliance has recently become a voice in the struggle between recreational and commercial fishing interests. Fish stock has improved, and the recreational boats want a bigger piece of the pie. Turning to Gulf shrimp, the industry has faced a downturn in 2015. June numbers reached 9.7 million pounds, a 39% decline from the same month last year. The primary factor for the decline came from Louisiana and the state’s decision to shut down the spring fishery, citing an abundance of smaller-sized white shrimp, opting to close fishing in Louisiana waters until the fall season begins mid-August.
As the summer waters heat up in the Great Lakes, walleye, pike and other lake species dive to cooler waters, making fishing a bit more challenging. Volume has been adequate, but we are gearing up for an excellent fall season. Frozen supply is finally available and arriving this week.
Good landings on the Hawaiian auction have provided ample supply of marlin, opah, monchong and tuna. Marlin prices have spiked recently, but good values remain in other species. Our buyers on the auction floor give us a down-and-dirty collection of how average prices are going. For the major species such as tuna, each fish is individually bid on, with the highest bidder getting the fish; and so on down each row. Pretty fascinating stuff. We provide our buyers a wish list and pricing parameters, and they go to work. Our fish is chilled, packed and flown directly to Denver. Looking for whole fish for your retail display? Let your sales expert know what you want, and we will have our buyers select that special whole fish for your case.
Please check out our seafood availability guide and newsworthy events on our website.
Director of Purchasing