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No relief in sight for snow crab until Alaska's Bering Sea fishery picks up

- Steven Hedlund
November 01, 2006

The market for snow crab ( Chion­oecetes opilio ) is in a holding pattern. Demand and prices are high and should remain so through early 2007.

"Availability is extremely tight," says Chris Limberg, national sales manager for Harbor Seafood in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "Demand currently outweighs supply, and that's continuing to drive up the market."

No supply or price relief is expected until Alaska's Bering Sea snow crab fishery picks up in 2007, says Limberg.

The Bering Sea harvest officially kicked off Oct. 15. The 2006-07 quota is set at 36.6 million pounds, down slightly from 37.2 million pounds in 2005-06.

The 2005 season - the first to be managed under the individual fishing quota system - didn't get under way until January; only about 1 million pounds were caught between October and December.

By early March, only 17 million pounds were landed. But the snow crab fishery took off in March when the cod harvest subsided, and by mid-April landings topped 33 million pounds.

By early June, when the quota was met and the fishery closed, 5-ounce-and-up Alaska opilio clusters brought $3.10 to $3.15.

By mid-October, Newfoundland's snow crab fishery was all but over; fishermen were about 700 metric tons shy of the 46,233-metric-ton quota, down from 49,978 metric tons in 2005.

According to Urner Barry Publi­cations of Toms River, N.J., New­foundland opilio clusters commanded $3.10 to $3.20 for 4s-and-up, $3.55 to $3.65 for 5-8s and $3.70 to $3.80 for 8s-and-up in mid-October. Gulf of St. Lawrence opilio clusters cost 5 to 10 cents a pound more.

Some buyers, says Limberg, are resisting high-priced snow crab, opting instead for king crab, a current bargain.

Alaska's Bering Sea tanner crab ( C. bairdi ) fishery also kicked off Oct. 15. The 2006-07 quota was set at 3 million pounds - almost double 2005-06's 1.6-million-pound quota.

Blue crab

Supply and demand were in balance last month for Asian blue-swimming-crab ( Portunus spp .) meat, even though through August total U.S. imports of product were down 5 percent, to 28.9 million pounds, from a year ago.

In mid-October, 16-ounce cans of pasteurized Asian crabmeat were quoted in the mid- to high-$15 range for jumbo lump, mid-$9 range for backfin and lump, mid-$8 range for backfin, mid-$6 range for special and mid-$4 range for claw.

Pasteurized Venezuelan crabmeat was tagged in the mid-$14 range for jumbo lump, mid- to high-$6 range for backfin and lump, low-$5 range for special, mid- to high-$4 range for backfin and high-$3 range for claw.

The domestic blue crab ( Callinectes sapidus ) harvest was hindered by inclement weather this season.

Supplies of hardshell crabs are limited. In mid-October, No. 1 Jimmies fetched $65 to $70 a bushel, up from $30 to $35 in the summer, while No. 2s brought $30 to $40, up from $20 and $25 in the summer.

Prices of softshell crabs remained high throughout this season. Whales and jumbos exceeded $50 a dozen in April but slipped under $20 in the summer when the fishery peaked.

By season's end in the fall, whales climbed back to $40 to $45, jumbos to $25 to $35. - S.H.

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