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One Man's Opinion: Are high prices here to stay?
By Peter Redmayne
February 01, 2007
Ask a seafood buyer how business is these days and the first
thing you'll probably hear is a groan and then maybe an
expletive about how high prices are making fish harder and
harder to sell.
Make no mistake - prices are high. Take Dungeness crab, for
example. Two years ago, you could buy all the clusters you
wanted for $3.55 a pound. This January, the price was $5.30 a
pound and you were lucky to find a truckload. Or snow crab;
early last spring, the Canadian sections were on the street at
well under $3 a pound. Now the going price is north of $4 and
supplies are tight and getting tighter.
On the finfish side, look at cod. Frozen H&G Alaska cod,
which normally fluctuates between $1 and $1.25, is worth $2 a
pound this winter - f.o.b. Dutch Harbor! That means retailers
back East have to retail "fresh" cod fillets at $7.99 a pound -
a price at which fillets don't exactly fly out of the case.
Halibut is even worse. When the Pacific halibut season
wrapped up last November, fresh halibut prices were $6 a pound
- and that's for whole fish! At that level, most of the fish
was headed for white tablecloth restaurants that can charge $20
a plate and up.
There are plenty of other examples of increasingly pricy
fish - tuna, sword, snapper, sole, flounder - take your pick.
Even farm-raised staples like salmon and catfish have gotten
more expensive. Over the past two years, the price of farmed
Chilean salmon fillets has risen steadily from about $2.50 to
more than $4 a pound. Meanwhile, catfish fillets have jumped
from about $2.50 to $3 a pound.
So what's going on? Of course, seafood prices are
notoriously volatile over the short term, due to wide
fluctuations in supply. But over the long term, there's little
doubt that buyers should not bet on much price relief. Blame it
on supply and demand.
In the United States, where seafood consumption is at record
levels, the aging Baby Boomer population is eating more
seafood. According to consumer surveys, people in the
50-and-over demographic eat almost twice as much fish as people
in the 18-to-34 bracket. In addition, many of the new
immigrants come from countries with traditions of higher fish
consumption. Add that to the fact that the American population
is growing - well, you get the picture.
And then there's China, where, as the proverb says, "there
is no dinner without fish." China's seafood consumption is at
record levels and going nowhere but up, as the roaring economy
improves living standards. China's annual seafood imports,
which are growing almost 30 percent a year, are now more than
There are other factors, too. The weak U.S. dollar, for
example, is forcing prices up as foreign buyers, strong
currencies in hand, can pay more for fish.
Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot buyers can do about
rising prices. One thing they can do, however, is take some
risks. Although they may be increasingly few and far between,
good buys will always come along from time to time. So the next
time a seller suggests making a move on a good buy, it may be
time to listen. Stocking up now could mean more profits later,
because making a profit selling high-priced seafood is not
going to get any easier.
Contributing Editor Peter Redmayne lives in Seattle