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Shellfish Update: Mussels

Soaring prices of imports have done little to squeich growing demand

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
James Wright
November 01, 2005

Mussels are more popular with American consumers than ever, as menus across the United States will attest. There certainly has been no dip in demand for these versatile bivalves, even though prices are soaring to record highs.

Many obstacles remain for mussel suppliers. A weak U.S. dollar is hurting importers of Canadian product. Green mussels from New Zealand now cost 12 percent more than in 2004. And flat production of wild or bottom-cultured mussels from Maine will drive up prices of that product as well.

Bill Silkes, owner of American Mussel Harvesters in North Kingstown, R.I., deals mainly with live mussels as well as oysters and clams. He says that overall demand for AMH’s mussels is up 20 to 25 percent, which bodes well for 2006.

Thus far in 2005, a total of 16,901 metric tons of blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) and green-shell mussels (Perna canaliculus) has been imported into the United States, worth $46.8 million, an average of $1.26 per pound, says the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In 2004, U.S. imports totaled 23,014 metric tons, at a value of $56.1 million, an average of $1.10 per pound. The total weight and value in 2004 were both record highs and represented an increase of more than 17 percent from 2003. That year saw imports drop by 5 percent from 2002.

Domestically, production remains stagnant. In 2003, the latest figures available from NMFS, 2,033 metric tons were produced, worth just over $6 million. That represented a drop in production of 7 percent from 2002.

Jefferson Oranellas, VP of sales at Great Eastern Mussel Farms in Tenants Harbor, Maine, says that bottom-culture production will remain flat in 2006, and the cost of all mussels will likely go up.

“Prices of rope-cultured mussels from Canada are up nearly 25 percent, and there is little room to expand up there,” he said. “Then there’s fuel costs, packaging costs. I see prices steadily going up.”

Imported supplies, however, are on the uptick. New Zealand, which traditionally accounts for the lion’s share of U.S. mussel imports, remains a major exporter of frozen, dried or brined mussels. Through August of this year, 21.6 million pounds of New Zealand mussels came into the United States, representing 57 percent of the total, up from 53 percent in 2004.

The price for New Zealand product has jumped significantly this year, up to $1.43 per pound from $1.27 per pound in 2004.

Canadian blue mussels, mainly from Prince Edward Island, account for 37 percent of the import total through August, at 13.6 million pounds. This year’s figures are on pace with 2004’s 18.6 million pounds. However, the price has risen from 87 cents per pound in 2004 to nearly $1.03.

John Price, founder and owner of JP’s Shellfish in Eliot, Maine, says the high price being paid for PEI mussels can be directly attributed to a weakening U.S. dollar. At press time, the Canadian dollar was trading at 85 cents U.S.

“There’s a scarcity of wild Maine mussels, and they are going for 30 to 40 cents cheaper than PEI’s,” Price says. “In reaction, I would expect that Maine mussels will continue to go up [in 2006].”

Yet producers are confident that the tremendous demand will allow buyers to absorb the price increases.

“Mussels are still a tremendous value,” Silkes says.
 

November 2005 - SeaFood Business 

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