« November 2006 Table of Contents
Demand remains strong, but the uncertainty of Mother
Nature and increased fuel costs make pricing
By Marianne Deward
November 01, 2006
Despite continued weather disruptions and increased fuel
prices worldwide, the yellowfin tuna market remained relatively
steady throughout 2006. Next year may be harder to predict,
U.S. yellowfin imports for the first six months of 2006 were
at 14,342 metric tons, up slightly from 14,095 metric tons
during the same period in 2005. The 23,066 metric tons imported
in 2005 was up a bit from 2004's total of 21,412 metric
Some of the largest producers are Vietnam, the Philippines,
Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Costa Rica,
Panama, Colombia, Spain and Italy.
While many factors can affect pricing, weather has always
played a big role; major storms send boats in, and good weather
keeps them out. Water temperature also has an effect on
landings. For the U.S. Gulf fleet, 2006 has been a year of
picking up the pieces after 2005's hurricanes wreaked havoc
with the fishery.
"Almost 90 percent of the Gulf fleet was immobilized after
hurricanes Katrina and Rita," says Phil Rush, VP of sales for
Jensen Tuna in Louisiana. "Many workers lived on their boats,
because their homes were destroyed, while others couldn't work
because they were dealing with insurance and clean-up
logistics. There were four to six months with no fishing.
"Only since this July has our production level of yellowfin
gotten back to normal. Barring any more major storms, 2007
should be a better year."
Following Hurricane Katrina, Rush resorted to importing 70
to 80 percent of his fresh tuna from Vietnam to fill the
void."That's now swinging back to a normal level," he says.
"We're getting closer to importing only 60 percent from Vietnam
during the peak season and getting the rest from the Gulf."
Fresh and frozen yellowfin is available year-round due to
differing seasons worldwide. For example, the peak season for
fresh tuna from Vietnam is typically September through March,
whereas Panama's peak is January through July.
Given all the variables, knowing exactly when and where to
buy yellowfin is a challenge, says Tim Lycke, president of
Incredible Fresh in Miami, which attributes approximately 35
percent of its business to fresh yellowfin.
"We moved a lot of tuna this year, and sometimes we just
couldn't get enough," says Lycke. "This year yellowfin was one
of our better money makers, with eight out of 10 of our
customers ordering it. Knowing the seasons, and how weather and
fuel are effecting those seasons, is critical."
With fresh tuna, the bigger the fish, the higher the price.
For 60-pounders and up, prices were down a bit from last year's
range of $7.75 to $8, going from a low of $5.75 up to a high of
$7.25 this year. The 2+ grade held at $5 to $5.50. Prices for
40-60-pound fish remained at $4.75.
As fuel costs rose and fell in 2006, so did yellowfin tuna
"Prices [for fresh tuna] are very much like a roller
coaster," says Lycke. "Though it's come down a bit from last
year, I can't see the price of yellowfin dropping under $4 next
"When it comes to prices, there are too many variables,
which is why it's so hard to forecast for 2007," adds Rush.
"Our costs have doubled or tripled in the past six years
because of higher transportation costs. Often, countries that
ship No. 1 or No. 2+ grade fresh yellowfin have to find a
closer market, like Japan, because of high fuel costs. I'm
hoping for price stability in 2007, but we have to keep an eye
on the fuel costs."
Chef Dean James Max, a Fort Lauderdale chef who sits on the
Florida Seafood and Aquaculture Advisory Committee, deals
regularly with yellowfin-price fluctuations.
"Since costs can be high, we use every piece of fresh tuna,"
he says. "Our menu changes daily, so if something becomes cost
prohibitive, we switch to another item. But yellowfin will
always stay a very popular and strong menu item."
Frozen yellowfin also saw some price hikes. Steve Clark,
national sales manager for Twin Tails Seafood in Miami, which
sells CO-treated yellowfin from the Philippines, experienced a
15- to 20-percent price increase this year, due primarily to a
dramatic increase in both demand and transportation costs.
Others saw prices go even higher. David Chi, marketing
manager at Ocean Blue Products, a Los Angeles seafood importer
that primarily deals with frozen CO-treated yellowfin from
Indonesia and Vietnam, says earlier
in the year prices were up
30 to 40
"I think prices will remain high in the first part of 2007,"
says Chi. "Demand will continue to rise, and pricing will also
if weather and fuel-cost instability continue to affect the
market. I don't foresee any major dips."
Meeting high demand
Prices haven't dampened consumer demand for yellowfin.
"Yellowfin has become such a popular species that our
challenge for 2007 will be to keep meeting demand," says Clark.
That's why Twin Tails will soon be importing from Papua New
Guinea. "It's a tuna-rich area. Boats in the Philippines take
five to seven days to get to the fishing grounds, four to five
days to fish, and five to seven days to return.
"In New Guinea, it takes less than one day to and from the
fishing area, and two days to catch. We'll get a good-quality
product to meet our customers' needs."
Many suppliers are selling frozen yellowfin saku blocks,
which is tuna from the top loin cut into 8-ounce blocks
suitable for sushi/sashimi.
"Most upscale restaurants still only use fresh tuna;
however, sushi bars and other restaurants are going more with
frozen saku lately because it's less expensive, since there are
no filleting costs," says Rush.
"I think the use of increased saku blocks may affect the
fresh market next year."
Yellowfin is often compared to top sirloin, another high-end
menu item, so it's no wonder consumption of the popular tuna
continues to rise worldwide. Japan, Western Europe and the
United States are the top three global markets driving
High-quality yellowfin is the norm, but buyers should make
sure the tuna is always firm, bright and somewhat
"The skin should be well attached to the flesh, with only
fresh blood and tissue visible," he says. "Browning edges
denote staleness and aging. Also, don't let tunas lie in ice
baths. They require a consistent temperature and should be kept
For the freshest yellowfin, Lycke looks to the moon phases.
"Buyers should ask how long the boat was out and on what moon
phase the yellowfin was caught." he says. "The freshest fish
are always caught just before a full moon during the first
Marianne Deward is a freelance writer in Sunrise, Fla.