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Shellfish Update: Blue Crab

Post-Katrina prices for domestic product soar, while plentiful imports hold steady

November 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Louisiana fishing industry — which accounts for about 30 percent of the domestic blue-crab catch — pushed crab prices up by double digits last month for some Gulf-area dealers.

Sal Junda, owner of Sal’s Riverside Seafood in Kenner, La., says No. 1 blue crabs that were wholesaling for $1.75 to $2 per pound before the hurricane were at $2.50 a pound in mid-October.

But Junda, who carries only crab harvested from the Gulf and Lake Pontchartrain, doesn’t even have blue crab in stock.

His business — like countless others along the Gulf Coast — sustained damage from Katrina, and he lost $20,000 worth of softshell blue crab alone.

And with Louisiana fishermen struggling to replace lost traps and ruined boats, Junda doesn’t expect to see any more blue crab from the Gulf or Pontchartrain until next spring.

“But if fishermen start getting them in, we’ll start buying,” Junda says.

Jim Gossen, president of Louisiana Fine Food Co. in Houston, estimates blue-crab prices have risen at least 25 percent in Katrina’s wake.

“For jumbo lump, we’re selling to restaurants for around $16.50 a pound, and regular lump is between $7.50 and $8,” says Gossen, predicting prices could go even higher this winter.

In the Chesapeake Bay region — where the 2004 blue-crab harvest reached about 60 million pounds — prices appeared relatively stable last month after a mid-summer increase tied to sky-high fuel costs.

Harbour House Crabs in Harrisburg, Pa., which sells live or steamed blue crab online, was offering a dozen large Maryland blue crabs for $42.99 — up from $39.99 in July.

And at Linton’s Seafood in Crisfield, Md., a bushel of live or steamed jumbo Maryland blue crab was being touted as a special at $199.99.

That’s down from $249.99, although the price was set to go back up Oct. 21.

Imports strong
The ready availability of imported blue swimming crab, meanwhile, has kept prices steady for the Portunus genus, indigenous to Southeast Asia.

In 2004, U.S. imports of pasteurized and frozen crabmeat surpassed 35.3 million pounds, up from around 32 million pounds the previous year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. (That compares with recent annual landings ranging from 160 million to 185 million pounds for the domestic blue crab, Callinectes sapidus.)

Last month, pasteurized jumbo lump was trading in the upper $15- to upper $16-per-pound range, depending upon the quality of the pack, says Steve Harmell, VP of sales and marketing for Blue Star Food Products in Miami, which imports crabmeat from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and China.

“It was a good production year in most of the major producing countries,” Harmell says.

Newport International in Tierra Verde, Fla. — slated to move to downtown St. Petersburg in December — imports multiple containers of blue-swimming-crab meat per month from China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand marketed under the Jack’s Catch brand.

“The supply right now is plentiful,” says Troy Turkin, executive VP of sales and marketing.

In mid-October, based on Urner Barry data and interviews with importers, the price per pound for premium imported crabmeat was $15.60 to $15.95 for jumbo; $10.25 to $10.85 for lump; $6.75 to $6.95 for special; and upwards of $4.50 for claw.

 — R.R.

 November 2005 - SeaFood Business 

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