Salmon is the new dirty word in the seafood industry. Global farmed salmon supply is at historical lows. Prices have reached levels not seen since the ISA crisis of 2008, peaking in 2009. The primary factor is the recent devastating toxic algae bloom in Chile, another result of the warming El Nino effect, causing further production reduction for 2016 into 2017. To provide perspective, some of the largest Chilean producers have experienced enormous loss: Marine Harvest 1.2 million fish, Aquachile 2.3 million salmon in Punta Redonda, Camanchaca, 1.5 million in Puelche and Contao region X; overall, excess of 24 million so far. Expected production for the balance of 2016 is extremely low; analysts are looking at a 6 percent drop from last year. Hardest hit last week is the U.S. sector with Easter demand struggling to fill the void left by Chile. Norway, the world’s largest producer, cannot automatically turn on the switch for more volume. Most of the Canadian production already comes to the U.S., leaving little wiggle room. Supply and demand obviously drive the market, but the Canadian and European sectors are certain beneficiaries of significant price hikes. Costs in the U.S. have increased for the 14th consecutive week. Some relief will come with less post-Easter demand and the upcoming wild salmon season. Columbia River opens in early April, followed by the California Chinook opener on May 1. The unofficial Alaska wild salmon season kicks off with Copper River in mid-May. Future kings will come from Cook Inlet, Skeena, Canada, Rogue River, Oregon, Yukon River, Alaska and so on. The sockeye run starts with Copper River and continues strong through Kodiak, Bristol Bay and Yakutat into July. The coho season takes over late July through fall running into the keta season. Seattle Fish Co. is a big supporter of wild salmon, as are our retail and foodservice customers.
Farm-raised trout supply is back to normal, with all sizes and cuts of both the rainbow and red meat varieties. Pricing remains favorable, a perfect menu item for great food cost and customer appeal. Opportunities for retail ads are favorable. Ask about our Colorado trout, somewhat higher in price, but still a value and homegrown. As salmon prices spiral out of control, Loch Etive steelhead is constant. Our Scottish trout shipping direct from the icy fjords of western Scotland is pristine. All sites are fallowed every eight to 13 weeks; the feed conversion ratio is close to 1:1; there are no copper-based antifoulants on the nets; and fish are raised without GMOs, hormones or growth promoters. Almost a perfect fish, the ultimate proof is in the taste. Ask your salesperson for your delivery of Loch Etive.
The U.S. farm-raised catfish industry will fall on hard times in the coming weeks. After a seven-year battle, catfish will formally move from FDA inspection to USDA inspection, a government cost increase from $700,000 annually to about $14 million a year to run the program. Hmmmm. To make matters worse, sizing will be an issue in the coming months, with most shank fillets processed in the 3- to 5-ounce range. Seven ounces and up will come at a premium. Seattle Fish Co. sources from the only BAP (Best Aquaculture Practice) catfish producer in the U.S. Please contact your sales rep for the latest sizing and availability.
The Pacific Halibut season opened March 19 with vessels buffeted by harsh Alaska spring weather. Canadian boats had somewhat better conditions for fishing, but the Washington fleet from Neah Bay and Puget Sound killed it with volume. Once again, Seattle Fish Co. had the first fish out to customers. Specialty retailers featured Easter ads, and restaurants jumped all over first-of-the-season halibut. The season runs through mid-November, with this year’s quota slightly higher than last year’s. Opening prices were similar to last year, and a few weekend bargains brought the cost a bit lower. Weather looks to be up this week, likely to affect the halibut catch somewhat. I had to take some fresh halibut home this past weekend for a perfect Easter Sunday dish. The Alaska cod season is over, but pot fishers are gathering good supply this week, supplementing our Icelandic cod supply. Icelandic fishermen are on a short Easter hiatus, affecting availability. Recent favorable weather has provided ample supply of rock, arrowtooth flounder and shallow-water Dover sole. On the other hand, petrale is tight. Whole sustainable West Coast rockfish and other species will dot our fresh offering as we move into spring and summer. Chilipepper rock from Morro Bay and splitnose rock from Neah Bay in Washington, both Seafood Watch green-rated species, will be part of our West Coast offering as available. As reported earlier, the California king season opens May 1 with high expectations. Dungeness crab prices remain firm, but in a surprise move, California opted to announce a Dungeness crab opener last Friday the 25th. Some work needs to be done to ensure crabs are in good, harvestable shape, but maybe we will see a bit of relief in crabmeat prices. King crab is staying on a price-elevation track, sure to continue until early summer. Seattle Fish Co. has excellent king crab supply and the best prices in town. Ask your sales rep for the great value of a full-meat 14- to 17-count case of king crab.
Mexican shrimp, all coming from our shippers involved in a Gulf of Mexico Fishery Improvement Project, is available in all sizes, arguably the finest anywhere. Currently, most of our inventories are made, and we can supply all your Mexican shrimp needs through September. Globally, shrimp prices are stronger than last year, but prices have leveled on some sizes. Disease issues, still prevalent, may limit growth this year. Production and demand for the U.S. market remains focused on large sizes. The gorilla in the room, China, will be a competitive factor in supply and cost. The balance of the year appears to be flat globally.
The 2016 scallop season opened March 1, but we have seen little price relief. Supply is adequate for early season, and quality has been excellent. Large scallops, U-10s, are a chef’s favorite, and our private-label Seattle Fish Co. brand will not disappoint. Add them to your menu. Seven offshore fishing areas will provide adequate supply as we head into our busy summer season. Great news for the U.S. scallop industry is that the juvenile population is excellent but not ready for harvest this year. Once again, larger sizes will be tight, and prices will stay firm. The 2017 season should provide increased quota and lower prices. Conservation will pay off next season. The Atlantic scallop industry is governed by the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFM) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) working in concert to negotiate allowable fishing days at sea and quotas for each of the designated fishing regions. The Northern Gulf of Maine, a much smaller catch, is managed separately from the balance of the Atlantic stock. Ground fishing has tightened a bit, with small landings of hake and pollock. Dabs and large monk tail totals are adequate for limited demand. Black sea bass is running well. Excellent supply of jumbo East Coast wild striped bass has driven prices to seasonal lows, a premium menu addition for the week. Live lobster prices have risen since January but have stabilized and should start to subside as the new season of Maine lobster catch begins. Remember, if you are looking for a larger volume of lobsters for your special event, ask your sales rep to bring them in our specially designed lobster cloud-pack boxes.
Seattle Fish Co. is the premier oyster provider in the Rocky Mountain region, as evidenced by ever-increasing demand. Oysters are the sexy seafood for restaurants and retail outlets. Denverites, as well as all Coloradans, love their oysters, and our sources on both the east and west coasts are providing needed supply. From the West Coast, 2016 is shaping up to be a record year. Quality and quantity is good, with lots of mature and well-developed choices. East Coast selections are equally spiffy. We will see some shortage of Canadian oysters as we move into the “mud season.” Our resort customers are familiar with that term, but in the shellfish world, it refers to ice breaking up so it’s unable to support machinery to harvest and still unnavigable for vessels. This “tweener” time will restrict some northern Atlantic supply for a few weeks. Recent articles on the state of East Coast oysters have reported a decimation of wild oysters through overharvest and lack of conservation. While these claims may have been based on some facts, with overfishing of the famed wild Blue Point oyster a number of years ago, such is not the case today. Industrial pollution is a more likely culprit than overfishing. Today, 85 percent of the oyster population is farm raised to some degree. Farmers are environmentally conscious and socially responsible. Like the responsible sheep rancher, if you take care of your land, it will take care of you.
Recently, I had the privilege of attending my last Boston Seafood Show — it is really called Seafood Expo North America, but I am old school — and our group took a trip to Island Creek Oyster in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Usually, during the show, the New England weather is nasty, but this day was beautiful. The setting on idyllic Duxbury Bay is superb, and the oystermen and women are a dedicated group interested in raising the best oysters anywhere. Their hatchery has been a work in progress, but from seed to grow out in the bay, the process is monitored with science and love. A new state-of-the-art hatchery is in the works. Current operations require raising some of their oysters outside the confines of the original bay, but the same dedication to excellence exists. I recall Skip Bennett, the founding oysterman, following me around the Boston Seafood Show in the early ’90s telling me of these great oysters. I tried them, a lot of them, was hooked, and the partnership with Seattle Fish Co. endures. But I digress; the highlight of our trip was taking a boat to the oyster shack in Duxbury Bay. The guys gathering oysters off the muddy beds were unloading their catches to be sorted and graded. Shucking and slurping Island Creek oysters a scant few minutes from their habitat was truly nostalgic, to be savored. Seattle Fish Co. is your Island Creek distributor in the Rocky Mountain region.
Mussel quality from Prince Edward Island, Canada, is at its peak. Mussels are meaty, sweet and plentiful. We will have some supply of Bangs Islands again this week. Hailing from Casco, Maine, Bangs flourish in the nutrient-rich waters of the Bay of Maine, where intersecting flows from the Gulf Stream create a 12-foot tidal exchange bringing in an abundance of food. Try some! The clam industry in Dennis, Massachusetts, continues to struggle. The very harsh 2015 winter decimated much of the clam crop. A little-known bit of trivia, if you are interested or even if not, clams take as long as beef to reach market size: almost two years. We won’t be out of the hard-shell clam weeds from the North Atlantic until mid-2017. Meanwhile, we are sourcing what is available and using some southern hard-shell clams. Razor clams have begun to show after winter scarcity. As for West Coast hardshells, manila clams are in good supply, and quality is superior. Quick-popping manila clams are the perfect addition to pastas and other clam dishes. Your Seattle Fish Co. shellfish expert will assist you through the array of choices, suggesting a fit for any menu or retail spiff.
Fighting heavy winds that were keeping boats tied up, Gulf tuna fishermen in Dulac, Louisiana, finally took on bait and provisions and set to sea last week, bringing home some excellent Gulf tuna. Combined with select imports, tuna quality has been very good. Seattle Fish Co. is also supporting a tuna fishery from Costa Rica that is starting a Fishery Improvement Project. Support of groups attempting to do the right thing appeals to our sense of stewardship. Swordfish numbers have also started to increase, combined with reduced pricing. Like the Chilean farmed-salmon industry, El Nino virtually negated the winter mahi season. Prices elevated to record numbers, and volume was very light. Frozen mahi will be a continuing problem going forward due to the lack of fresh catch at reasonable prices so far this season. Gulf Wild snapper is steady, but grouper is somewhat spotty. We strongly support Gulf Wild fishermen, striving to adhere to catch shares and individually tagging each fish to locate the area of catch, name of fishing vessel and captain.
Typically, we reserve this spot for Great Lakes fish. The lake season unofficially opens May 1, and we will be aggressive buyers for all Great Lake species. We have recently introduced a new, exclusive fish called meagre. This is a new fish for our region, direct from the source, the grower in Greece. Similar to corvina, also known as “Stone Bass,” our farmer is the largest producer in the Mediterranean. This is a translucent white-meat fish, rich in vitamin, mineral and omega-3 fatty acids. Freshness is farm direct; taste is exquisite and suitable for a variety of cooking methods. Meagre achieved a 1-Star Superior Taste Award by the renowned International Taste and Quality Institute in Brussels. Besides being a great-tasting, versatile fish, meagre supply is also consistent year round. Along with meagre, we also direct buy Euro bass and bream. Get with your sales rep, and place your order for meagre today.
Consistency is the recent trademark of the Hawaiian auction. The swordfish season in Hawaii is slated to rev up soon. Tuna supply has been adequate, with good value in higher-grade fish. Opah prices have been firm lately but eased off last week. Last week’s auction brought lower pricing on local albacore and blue marlin. Our buyers report average prices from the daily auction, and we give them a buy list with pricing parameters. Each fish is laid out daily and individually bid on. Orders are then shipped directly to Denver. Hawaiian Kampachi is still arriving weekly, harvested from deep-ocean pens off the coast of Kona. Sunday harvest is quickly packed and on our dock Tuesday morning. Wow! Doesn’t get much fresher than that.
Bringing market information to customers and friends of Seattle Fish Co. over the years has been a delight. Hopefully, we have provided some nuggets of wisdom, helped plan your seafood needs, and informed customers on the state of seafood. Seattle Fish Co. will always be true to our customers and we continue our quest of sustainability, preserving the bounty of the oceans for future generations. This will be my last report; your fishmonger is sailing off to some new adventures, hopefully including a tee time or two.
Director of Purchasing