Global salmon supply grew 3-4% in 2015; prices have been steady to lower since 2013. Industry experts predict growth pattern shifting downward the next decade, citing biological challenges. Chile has been promising lower production the last several years only to see numbers increase. Chile’s self-prophesy will likely come true in 2016, as lower smolt release for December was recently announced. A strong U.S. dollar saw farmed salmon imports increase 12-13% in 2015 from 2014. A huge price spike in late December created some angst among buyers, yours truly included. Severe weather issues, coupled with holiday demand, shot the NOK, the Norwegian equivalent of the dollar valuation, to over 60, when last fall’s average hovered at 40 or below. Prices have since receded, and hopefully normalcy will return. We will, however, not likely see prices reach last year’s lows. Canada, after a reasonably good growth period in 2015, is now seeing lower volume and firmer prices. Norway, the largest farmed-salmon producer worldwide, will see some growth. We have seen excellent growth in Norwegian salmon sales, especially with our retail partners. Scottish numbers continue to grow, and our expert production staff cut Scotties to your exact specifications. If you prefer, ask your sales rep for whole dressed fish, and cut it yourself. The 2015 Alaska wild salmon run was the second largest on record, exceeded only by the 2013 season. Bristol Bay was the second-largest run in the last 20 years and 12% above forecast. That good news is somewhat tempered by the fact that huge landings in Bristol, in a very short time frame, left fishermen scrambling to get their fish from tenders to the processing plants. Indications are sockeye prices might escalate a bit this year. The unofficial wild salmon opening is the Copper River season in mid-May. Anticipation of the Copper River Reds often exceeds actual landings, leaving retailers and their customers somewhat disappointed. Hard to believe those wild sockeyes don’t just jump in the boats as we need to fill orders. Still, the excitement of the wild salmon season gets everyone’s blood rushing. As usual, Seattle Fish Co. will be the premier wild salmon supplier in the Rocky Mountain region.
Rainbow trout supply has been adequate, unlike the red meat trout variety. We are starting to see better numbers from both our Idaho and Utah partners, just in time for Valentine’s Day, Presidents weekend and the upcoming Restaurant Week in Denver. Pure Rocky Mountain Spring water is not only perfect for a famous beer. Colorado-grown trout is also part of the Seattle Fish Co. menu, adding pristine trout from our fully integrated farm in Buena Vista, controlling fish from hatchery to harvest. Fully sustainable, Colorado trout is a sure bet; ask your sales rep for full details. Don’t forget about our Scottish steelhead, Loch Etive, sold whole, dressed or specially hand cut.
Down from the record production levels of 2007, U.S. farm-raised catfish has stabilized the last four years. Effective March 1, 2016, catfish inspection will pass from the FDA to the USDC. Catfish will be inspected like the beef and poultry industry, with inspectors on the premises at all times. How will the industry be affected? No one is quite sure, but what is sure is a tightening of supply between now and the new crop available in late June or July. Farmers know this, and the resulting pressure on price will increase costs. Some good news is that feed prices are slated to drop slightly. Catfish is a retail staple and a very popular food-service value fish.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) convened in Juneau, Alaska, last week, setting the Total Allowable Catch for the 2016 season. The Alaska quota was set at 29.89 million pounds, slightly over 2% of last year. Another key point of discussion was lowering the catch limit from 32 to 30 inches, a measure that did not pass. Average fish size has been dropping the past few years, even though overall biomass is good, prompting the increased quota. The season opens Saturday, March 19, and closes Monday, November 7. The IPHC meets annually, bringing together fishermen, fish processors and scientists to look at the state of the industry and current issues to resolve. This is the second year in a row the quota has increased, indicating a rebound in the fishery. The Alaska cod fishery is in full swing, with Pacific cod retail ads on the docket. Rock, primarily from Canada, remains short, but shallow-water Dover sole and petrale is stronger. We look forward to March and the arrival of U.S. green-rated rockfish from our West Coast sources. Sablefish is tight too, with some volume showing in southern Pacific waters. The Alaska sable season opens in March. There have been no significant changes in the Alaska king crab quota this year. China has become a big player, especially in the Russian crab markets. So far, inventories saw brisk movement in 2015, depleting inventories by spring. The entire West Coast is now open for the favored Dungeness crab. Early prices softened a bit but shot right back up, with Dungeness finally hitting retail outlets in time for Super Bowl parties. Further south, the January harvest yielded very little catch. Boats are finally getting out, and some California halibut, yellowtail, grouper and snapper are available. Bay scallops, slated to be available any day, are still in hiding, the season starting slowly. Mexico is still fishing for shrimp, but inventories are dwindling, especially for larger sizes. As your Mexican shrimp supplier, Seattle Fish Co. has all sizes, and some larger value-added Mexican shrimp, to add to your shrimp stable. Globally, shrimp production recovered in 2014-2015, creating expanded demand and a rebound in the U.S. This year, once again may bring on the specter of disease, limiting growth. Production for the U.S. market will be focused on larger sizes. Competition from China will be a factor, as usual, and the first half of the year may see lighter production.
The East Coast scallop industry remains healthy, but scallops caught in 2015 were smaller; large sizes were limited in capacity. U.S. landings were above 2014 landings by 8.1% but less than expected. U-10 and U-12 will continue to be tight, looking for some relief when the new season opens March 1, with seven offshore fishing regions in 2016. Forecasters predict 2016 will not produce significantly more inventory, but a very healthy juvenile population portends well for the coming years. The season opener in 2017 will move from March 1 to April; expect increased landings. Seattle Fish Co. is your scallop specialist. 2014 saw a tremendous surge in U.S. and Canadian lobster landings. The pace has since slowed, and the live market is on the upswing pricewise. Domestic landings are low, and live prices will surge through March; relief is not expected until mid to late April or later. The frozen market is staying strong, but the surge in meat is unprecedented. Prices for claw and knuckle meat are almost unmanageable, and the primary reason cited is the flood in popularity of lobster rolls. Doesn’t McDonald’s serve lobster rolls now? East Coast ground fishing is steady for limited demand, which is soon to change with the upcoming Lenten season. Monkfish remains steady with stronger pricing. We are starting to see a bit more volume of striped bass accompanied by lower cost.
Oysters are big business. We have put out reports of the record numbers Seattle Fish Co. sells in the Rocky Mountain region. The phenomenon rages across the country as restaurants add oysters or full-on oyster bars to their business models. Retail stores are equally engaged, as customers are looking for more oyster choices. The West Coast, after previous down years with lack of seed and ocean acidification, is enjoying a great start to 2016. As one West Coast oysterman claims, “Oyster quantity and quality is as good as I can ever remember.” Three main oyster technologies represent the oyster spectrum:
- Wild harvest
- Planned wild harvest with hatchery-spawned spat broadcast for bottom grow-out
- Full farm-raised with single-seed juveniles, fully controlled from hatchery to harvest
Hard shell oysters from our Dennis, Massachusetts, producers are seeing some hard times, which is not surprising with the extreme winter they experienced last year. Much of the production suffered from winter-kill, and we are seeing the negative results now. Some of the shortfall is coming from southern hard shell producers, and our northern partners are seeing a bit more production this week. Manila clam availability has rebounded from last season. Production and quality for Manilas is excellent this season. The last couple of weeks have yielded some razor clams, but don’t expect them to be a solid menu offering. Mussels, like Manila clams, are plentiful and at the height of the season for quality and meat fill. Our Canadian partners from Prince Edward Island ship to Denver twice weekly, hopefully avoiding the massive ice packs shutting down the industry last winter. Check with our Seattle Fish Co. shellfish experts for all your shellfish needs.
Sword, tuna and mahi harvests have seen their share of challenges this winter. Tuna boats have been hampered by Gulf weather patterns. Additionally, more pressure has been put on tuna with demands for the Chinese New Year. Swordfish had a banner end of 2015, but sources have dwindled since, increasing prices. New Zealand took a long holiday break, and fishing in other regions indigenous to swordfish experienced reduced supply, raising prices. So far, the mahi season is a disaster. There is a massive shortage this season. Compared to last year, we are only at 10-15% of catch. Boats that normally harvest mahi are starting to change their gear to other species. The main culprit is El Nino, a known event, but ramifications certainly caught producers by surprise. A very strong El Nino has wreaked havoc on the Central and South American mahi fisheries. Higher water temperatures are keeping fish far away and not taking the bite. The Gulf American Red Snapper season is strong, barely keeping up with strong demand. Our association with Gulf Wild, working with fishermen dedicated to the integrity and sustainability of the Gulf Reef Fishery, has resonated. Gulf Wild was created by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Shareholders Alliance, an association of like-minded fishermen adhering to catch shares and doing it right. Our snapper sales are hitting record numbers. Ask for Gulf Wild snapper and grouper.
The ice is getting thicker, and the harvest of walleye and other Lake Fish is dwindling. We are seeing some windows of opportunity and actually have good supply this week of the favored pickerel, better known as walleye in our region. Fresh walleye is a perfect winter special when available. Mild, sweet flavor and ease of preparation make walleye a retail and restaurant favorite. The unofficial opening of the full Lakes season is May 1.
Hawaiian waters are yielding decent supplies of tuna, opah, marlin and monchong. Last week, ground fish was a bit more reasonably priced, and fresh Ehu was on the menu. Look for more this week. Opaka Paca or Onaga may also be offered. Our Hawaiian buyers send daily average prices from the daily auction in Honolulu. We give them a buy wish list with pricing parameters, and they go to work to see what fits our model. Each fish in the major species is separately bid on by seasoned buyers. Our “catch” is immediately iced, then boxed and shipped to Denver the same day. Hawaiian Kampachi continues to be short, but our longtime supplier from the Big Island gives us preference for needed volume. Shipments will continue once a week until sizing and increased stock allow for twice-a-week shipments. Fresh as can be, Hawaiian Kampachi arrives at our dock a day and a half out of water.
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Director of Purchasing