Back in the day, the farmed salmon market was easy to predict. As soon as the wild season wound down in the fall, farmed prices would start to climb, reaching a winter high with holiday demand. Cost would level a bit until Lent, when demand again caused a spike, slowly decreasing as wild once again became available. The Chilean ISA crisis in 2007-2008 threw a wrench in the system, but we got back to business as usual. Today, all bets are off. Atlantic salmon prices have been soft for some time. Chile, having threatened to cut production in 2015, actually increased volume from the prior year. This is great news for the consumer, but current levels are unsustainable and prices have to increase to maintain a viable, safe industry. Norwegian prices have started to surge, reaching 50 NOK, the Norwegian krone currency. Q1 2016 looks to continue strong, but futures pricing models predict prices to fall somewhat. What does this all mean for your Christmas parties and retail ads? Prices will remain soft and very advantageous to the buyer, but expect some rapid increases after the first of the year. Good news is Seattle Fish Co. is diversified, sourcing salmon worldwide. Our largest volume comes from Scotland, direct from our farmer partners in the form of large, wide-body air containers direct to Denver. Norwegian fillets and whole fish ship similarly and we are now offering a 100 percent certified European organic Norwegian salmon. The price tag is higher; ask your sales expert for details and they can provide you with written organic documentation. Skuna Bay craft-raised salmon, an industry leader on how to raise and ship premium salmon properly, is exclusive to Seattle Fish Co. Each fish is individually inspected and carefully packed in thermal-lined, recyclable boxes. The next person to see the fish is you, the chef. If Skuna is not on your menu, this is the season to add this superior craft salmon.
The wild season is over, but Seattle Fish Co. brings you the finest frozen king, sockeye and coho available. Some fresh “winter” kings are available from time to time, accompanied by an exorbitant price tag.
Even though we are not proponents at this time, FDA has approved a producer to sell GE (genetically engineered) salmon, reporting safety issues have been met. Opponents have vilified GE salmon, using terms as “Frankenfish” and “test-tube.” Proponents cite shorter grow-out period and 25 percent reduction in feed. Norwegian and European authorities see no viable form of approval at this time. The marketplace, as always, will dictate the future of GE salmon.
Trout is likely on every Colorado fine dining menu and certainly in every grocery store. Seattle Fish Co. is the premier distributor of rainbow and red meat trout. Colorado-grown trout is now on our menu full time, either dressed or filleted. Single-lobe fillets, butterflied pin bone out whole, or head-on dressed, we are your trout guy. As with salmon, trout has that ultra-premium distinction ─ steelhead, specifically Loch Etive steelhead. Grown in the icy fjords of western Scotland, Loch Etive produces a fatty fish with no GMO, no hormone, no growth promoters and no copper-based anti-foulant nets. They do it right, but the number one reason to buy is the taste ─ ridiculously good. Try Loch Etive today.
U.S. farm-raised catfish is the finest in the world. Our catfish are top-feeders, with nets preventing fish from feeding off the bottom, resulting in a mild, clean flavor. Catfish supply from the U.S. has been good to date. The feed report just came out and projections for the next few months show processing demand is up but feed supply is level, indicating the market will be very tight around Lent or shortly after. Other less-than-favorable news is, after a seven-year battle, catfish will formally move to USDA inspection. Opponents, including the seafood industry, have criticized the move as a waste of government resources, citing a fully competent FDA catfish inspection program at a fraction of the cost.
As a precursor to the IPHC (International Pacific Halibut Commission) general meeting in Vancouver on Jan. 25, the commission met for preliminary discussions last week. Forecast models are similar to prior years, but reallocation of quota in specific zones seems imminent. More to come. Even though halibut season is a few months away, you can still get your fix with Seattle Fish Co.’s refreshed program. The fish are properly frozen at the height of the season, maintaining cell integrity, producing an excellent previously frozen product. Other species from the Northwest are at the mercy of winter weather patterns. Rock cod quotas have been met in many areas, limiting supply until January. Pacific cod is available as a pot fishery; the primary Alaska season kicking off Jan. 1. Shallow water Dover sole, as well as Petrale harvest, is adequate, but not the case for ocean perch and arrowtooth flounder. Sablefish is a by-catch situation until spring, but we carry an excellent frozen J-cut sablefish. The Dungeness crab outlook is a bit clearer as openers have been delayed until domoic acid levels drop. Testing is under way in all coastal states, Washington, Oregon and California. Highest levels are more prevalent farther south, but a joint decision of all governing bodies was made to hold off on the commercial fishery. A small native opener in Washington hit the market with passable readings at record high-price levels. For now it is wait-and-see game. The king crab market remains firm, but great value in many sizes is available at Seattle Fish Co. Load up now for your holiday parties.
Southern California is harvesting yellowtail, local thresher shark and swordfish as well as grouper. Northern rock has been limited but we got a local supply of green-rated Chilipepper rock this week. Mexican bay scallops are back on the market, so order up. Most Mexican boats are shrimping and we have all sizes on hand. Prices are down from the high levels we saw last year, so now is the time to put Mexican shrimp back on your holiday menus. Globally, shrimp prices are starting to move up. To combat disease, many foreign growers adopted lower stocking densities, so naturally farmers are leaving stock in ponds to grow larger, reaping bigger profits.
We have been predicting higher lobster prices this winter, a natural occurrence as demand peaks and supply constricts, but this season may be a bit different. Europe has always been a big consumer of live lobsters, but recent events may paint a different picture. Terrorist attacks, most recently in Paris, have dampened the holiday mood. Additionally, tourist business has been stifled. Some industry experts forecast lobster business off by 25 percent or more. A perfect storm of terror attacks, a weak currency, weakened economy and anticipated higher prices point to a dismal lobster season in Europe. Domestic prices actually dipped a bit this week. If you are looking at lobster specials this holiday season, best values are full cloud pack case orders. Ask your Seattle Fish Co. lobster expert for details. The east coast ground fishery is adequate for limited demand. Cod is still depressed, but we are seeing good supply of haddock and dabs. Monkfish prices are still firm, but should come down as catch increases. Some black sea bass is available, but the striper numbers are tight and prices continue to stay strong.
Scallop fishing continues with limited fishing days remaining, keeping prices high, especially for the larger sizes. U-10s and larger will be a premium, as usual. Providing some relief is the opening of the Maine scallop season, managed separately from the rest of the Atlantic sea scallop industry. This season runs December, January and February. Last season saw approximately 575,000 pounds and this year is predicted to be similar. We are trying some test orders this week so, if interested, get with your sales reps. This is a day-boat fishery and scallops are shucked and bagged on board. These scallops are ocean-run in 10-pound bags, so grading averages from an 11-12 count to a 20-24 count.
How many oysters do you think our retail stores and restaurants will sell during the two-week period of Christmas and New Year? 200,000? 250,000 oysters? The number seems to double yearly, and why not? Oysters are more popular than ever and your Seattle Fish Co. shellfish experts have the knowledge and vast choices to pick that perfect holiday oyster. Twenty years ago, shucked oysters dominated 80 percent of the oyster market; today, that number is reversed and growing. Oysters are like fine wine, gaining their “merroir” or flavor from their surroundings. Each little coastal region has its own distinctive environment ─ a slightly different tidal exchange, nutrient level or exposure to sun or wind. Whatever the distinction, the five (there are only five) different species produce myriad variety. All shellfish this time of year is at their peak, and mussels are no different. The bulk of our mussels are cultured, grown suspended in a water column, vertically from the ocean floor to the surface. Most are grown in the ocean farms off Prince Edward Island, Canada. Conversely, the wild mussels we carry grow in their natural habitat. Starting their life as a free-floating mollusk, they later attach themselves to rock outcroppings, pilings or piers and feed off the ever-flowing nutrients from ceaseless tidal flows. Speaking of massive tidal flows, Bangs Island mussels are back, getting fat in Maine’s nutrient-rich Casco Bay. Tidal shifts are up to 12 feet, creating a plump, sweet, premium mussel. Good news: Volume from Bangs Island is such to bring us two harvests a week. Add Bangs Island mussels to your winter menu.
Hard-shell clams from Dennis, Massachusetts are perfect ─ in count, flavor and sizing. I took a bag home the other night and feasted on half-shell and steamed clams. I channeled a great Northeast pub with a superior lager, a perfect loaf of bread and a bucket of littlenecks. We also carry top necks, cherrystones and pasta neck clams, each perfectly counted and sized. Our quick-popping manila clams are equally succulent this time of year. Perfect for that pasta special, manilas are the answer. We will offer razor clams as tides and weather allow, as well as other specialty clams. Seattle Fish Co. is your one-stop shellfish shopping answer.
Story of the gulf this year is stone crabs, typically a high-priced, scarce delicacy. Prices are down this year, but more importantly, availability is up. Predicting patterns from this fickle crustacean remains a mystery, even to the most knowledgeable experts. Crabbers are hoping sales pick up and speculate that years of low catch and high prices resulted in customers looking elsewhere for their crab fix. Looking for stonies? Ask your Seattle Fish Co. rep. Gulf tuna production has been spotty this fall. Late, hurricane-like weather patterns have kept boats off the waters. This week should bring adequate gulf tuna supply. Mahi prices are starting to come down again after the full moon period. Swordfish prices have climbed recently. Gulf Wild grouper and American red snapper is arriving weekly as we start to elevate our volume to accommodate our resort restaurants. Check it out: Each Gulf Wild fish is individually tagged, depicting the exact 10-square-mile area of catch, name of fishing vessel, and captain. Better yet, all Gulf Wild fishermen adhere to catch limits and shares, sustaining the fishery.
Winter is fast approaching and Edmund Fitzgerald-like weather will soon shut off supply, but for now we are still getting fresh walleye. We are carrying a decent supply of frozen walleye sizes, best value in the 4- to 6-ounce fillet range. Look for new season Great Lake fishing to resume May 1.
Winter vessels are docking regularly at the Honolulu pier; numbers have been good and prices reasonable for most species. Tuna remains somewhat firm, but value in marlin, walu (escolar) and monchong is good. We have booked weekly air space during the busy holiday season. Looking for some specialty bottom fish like uku, opakapaka or onaga? Ask your rep. Expect to pay a premium, but our Hawaiian buyers will do their best to secure the fish you need, packed and shipped same day to Denver. Good news is our Hawaiian kampachi partners are expanding their capacity, but bad news is we remain on allocation for now. Hopefully, the first of the year will bring more kampachi to the market.
Please check out our website for specials and Seattle Fish Co. news. Here’s to a great holiday season for all our restaurant and retail friends and families. Thank you for your support.
Director of Purchasing