The Global salmon industry is facing numerous challenges in 2016, enduring the lowest supply period in several years. Norway, the world’s largest producer, is experiencing lice and licensing problems, and Chile continues to stay mired in financial abyss. Additionally, there has been a clear decline in smolt release recently in Chile, affecting future stock numbers. Norway saw significant volume and ideal growing conditions in 2015, but 2016 promises the reverse. Industry analysts predict salmon contraction in 2016, the first since the ISA crisis in Chile in 2010. We are seeing similar slowdown supply in the Pacific Northwest. Growing conditions in Scotland mirror Norway, currently experiencing smaller harvest sizes. We have sourced larger 6-8 kg. fish from the Faroes. Prices for Norwegian and Scottish whole fish have firmed, indicative of contracted supply. With a rapid ascent in pricing, some analysts predict a market correction; let’s hope so. As supply wanes in Chile, prices from this region are also on the rise. Higher prices have not stemmed demand in the Rocky Mountain region that Seattle Fish Co. serves. Daily flights direct from European salmon farms bring large container loads of premium salmon. In fact, finding adequate international lift is our biggest supply challenge. Skuna Bay, our premium craft salmon supplier, sourcing from the pristine Nootka Sound in Canada, is predicting more supply in the near future. At this time, production days are limited, creating some logistical issues. Count on Seattle Fish Co. to navigate the choppy salmon waters and continue as your go-to salmon source.
Colorado trout options are growing in dressed and fillet form. Ask your sales representative for details and pricing. Red meat trout from our producers continue to be a challenge, but more supply recently is easing pain. Farm-raised trout remains a bargain, perfectly priced for retail ads and consistent menu applications. Whether your spec is whole, dressed, or butterfly pin bone out, Seattle Fish Co. has the size and flavor you need. Our favorite trout, Loch Etive steelhead is a top choice for Denver Restaurant Week.
The catfish industry is making strides toward 4-star BAP sustainable certification, a good thing. These efforts, however, will increase farmers’ costs, passed along the food chain. Consumers’ interest in consuming a sustainably raised fish certainly overrides a few-penny cost bump. Not so good news in the U.S. farm-raised catfish industry is the transfer of inspection requirements from the FDA to the USDA. The seafood industry feels this is a costly, unnecessary move from a system that has worked well in the past. On another catfish note, feed prices have decreased slightly, but we will not see much effect, if any, until later in the year. With lent, processors are producing as much fish as possible, and with new crop not available until June or July, expect to see some shortage in supply between now and then.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission concluded its annual meeting in Juneau, Alaska, last month. As previously reported, the Canadian and U.S. governing bodies set the 2016 combined quota at 29.89 million lbs., slightly up from the previous year. The season is scheduled to open March 19, concluding November 7. Customer anticipation is certainly building. Seattle Fish Co., as usual, will have first-of-the-season Alaskan halibut at your door a few short days after fishermen set sail. Running concurrently with halibut is fresh sable fish season. As we head toward spring, Dover and rock supply is building, and the Pacific true cod season is in full swing. March weather is always the wild card, slowing the supply chain. Spring troll king salmon is showing up in greater volume, lowering prices a bit; still, it’s a high-ticket item. The mid-May Copper River opening is the traditional kickoff of the Alaska salmon season. Mid-Pacific waters are yielding good runs of shallow-water Dover sole and petrale. Southern California waters are yielding swordfish and baqueta, but little California halibut. That fish usually shows up when the Alaska halibut season is in full swing. Go figure. Dungeness crab, still being harvested, continues to fetch premium prices. Meat is at the highest levels in many years. King crab prices continue to firm, fueled primarily by imports into the U.S. finishing lower, down 5 percent through December. Premium red and brown king crab is available at Seattle Fish Co. with the most competitive pricing in the Rocky Mountain region.
The Mexican shrimp season is winding down with three or four smaller loads scheduled for the balance of the season. Seattle Fish Co. is your Mexican shrimp provider, with good volume in all sizes, including some larger value-added sizes. Special value comes in a 21-25 count shell-on brown shrimp, priced extremely competitive. Ask your sales rep for a case on your next order. Globally, as predicted, the shrimp markets continue to move upward. India, the leading exporter in 2015, has seen a reduction in production attributed to EHP, a newer spore-forming parasitic disease. It is a type of fungal infection, primarily inhibiting growth. Demand still drives the bus, and with sales sluggish in the U.S., maybe shrimp prices will see a dip in cost.
We have reported diminishing scallop landings in previous reports, and the trend continues as the 2015-2016 scallop season winds down. The New Bedford auction offered scallops for only 10 days in January. Most were harvested from the Mid-Atlantic Access Area, with the balance coming from the Channel region and day boat fishermen. Pricing remains high on U-10 and U-12. Most producers are carefully handling and scheduling trips to offer customers a steady supply for the balance of the season. Seattle Fish Co. offers a premium, private-label U-10 all-natural dry scallop. Ask your sales rep for a gallon on your next order. After a slow start, monkfish production is up, with current pricing moderate. Ground fish is tight with Lenten demand, finding value in haddock and flats. Cod continues to stay strong, as most of our supply comes from the MSC cod fishery in Iceland.
The live lobster market is steady, most landings coming from Canada. Typical for the time of year is steadily increasing lobster pricing through mid-April and the start of Maine lobster season. This year has been somewhat abnormal. Prices have steadily increased since January, but we saw a market correction as prices dipped slightly last week. Prediction for the balance of the winter season is a leveling of current pricing. We carry all sizes of live lobsters and for larger orders, ask your sales expert for details on our exclusive cloud-pack packaging.
The Seafood Expo North America 2016, formerly known as the Boston Seafood Show, is on the docket for March 6-8, and even though deep-fried fish permeates, a plethora of shellfish vendors are eager to show their wares. Oyster varieties at Seattle Fish Co. are significant from both the East and West Coasts. Canadian oysters are still scarce but should be available soon as winter ice melts. Our shellfish experts will guide you through choices, whether your preference is a briny blast of the ocean from the east coast virginica or a beautiful sweet cucumber finish from Puget Sound or British Columbia. Conversely, hard-shell clams are very tight, especially little necks. Last winter’s extremely harsh weather killed or stunted much of the crop, and we are seeing the effects now. We are substituting clams from southern farms to fill the void. Manilas from the West Coast are in good supply. A specialty clam often requested but sporadically available is the razor clam. Heavily dependent on tidal flows and reasonable weather, razors are difficult to come by at times. Enter the stout razor: a sweeter and more tender alternative. As soft-shell or steamers are less available, stout razors have created a niche market. Stout razors are shorter and rounder than the traditional razor and are currently available in limited supply at Seattle Fish Co. PEI mussels are plump, full meat and available. We always caution that best mussel storage in your cooler is plenty of ice in a well-drained pan.
Gulf tuna landings combined with lower-priced imports have kept tuna prices reasonable. Weather in the Gulf is, as usual, the wild-card factor. Tuna quality has been excellent, with best-of-the-season grading recently arriving. Check with your salesperson for that special piece of sashimi tuna. Swordfish is fairly strong, with an abundance of lower-priced imports and a fairly good amount of slightly higher-priced domestic stock, which is our preference. The 2016 mahi-mahi season has been somewhat of a disaster. El Nino has had more far-reaching effects than initially expected. Warmer waters have pushed traditionally fertile mahi grounds, creating sourcing problems. The overall effect has been very high summer-like prices. American red snapper, especially from our Gulf Wild friends, has been a winter mainstay. Excellent quality and preferred sizing is keeping this favorite on many of our menus. Grouper from Gulf Wild has been a bit more challenging, but a new load arrived at our dock yesterday. Grouper from the Baja has also been a steady choice. Amberjack, tile bass, and cobia harvest from the Gulf waters is good. Buy Gulf seafood; safe, sustainable choices.
Landings of lake fish have been sketchy lately, not surprising given the winter weather in this region. Walleye has been the primary choice when available. Look for whitefish, pike, and other Great Lake fish when the unofficial season opens May 1.
Hawaiian auction prices are somewhat firm, but our buyers on the floor are finding some windows of opportunity for direct-to-Denver shipments. Hawaiian marlin, the only marlin species approved for U.S. consumption by the FDA, is on the high side, with quality overriding buyer remorse. Other steady species are tuna, monchong, albacore, and opah. Favored bottom fish, such as ehu, opakapaka, and onaga, is prohibitively priced. Hawaiian Kampachi, raised in deep sea pens off the Kona coast on the Big Island, is a chef favorite for sashimi and crudo applications.
Looking for that special fish? Seattle Fish Co. is sending a contingent to the Seafood Expo North America 2016 to find it for you. As always, check out our website for the latest fish news and seafood guide.
Director of Purchasing