Written by Jen Finn
Gulf/South Atlantic Shrimp
Look up 'tough racket' in dictionary, and you're certain to see a shrimper
As the new decade begins, there's not much encouragement to be found looking back at the either the past year or the past decade, which began with heavy imports crashing the price of domestic shrimp.
Average unadjusted dollar prices of all three major commercial species of shrimp — whites, browns and pinks — were less in 2009 than in 2000, never mind correcting for inflation.
For the highest-volume variety, brown shrimp, ex-vessel price decreased from $2.27 a pound on average in 2000 to $1.47 (Florida price) in 2009.
Year-on-year prices, 2008 to 2009, also appear to have slipped.
There were no serious hurricanes this year, and fuel prices are not as bad as they were a year and a half ago. Other than that, it's hard to find good news in the shrimp business.
Louisiana shrimper George Barasich says that shrimping during the past season was "as bad as it has ever been, except for right after [Hurricane Katrina] for those of us who got hit."
Landings across the region appear to be down somewhat, according to reports from fishermen and NMFS weekly reports. This may in part be due simply to decreased effort, the result of miserable prices and fuel costs that, while well below the July 2008 highs of $4.75 or so in some places, still make turning a profit difficult.
For the week ending Dec. 8, NMFS reported Gulf of Mexico 21-25-count heads-on shrimp landings of 160,900 pounds at $2.55 a pound, compared to 265,300 pounds at $2.96 a pound for a comparable week in 2008.
Barasich says the cost-revenue equation makes speculative trawling a high-risk endeavor.
Shrimping to the east, in Mississippi waters, especially, was iffy, he says.
"There might have been product out there, but it was too risky with the low dockside prices and high fuel and ice to make a let's-go-and-see-what-we-can-find trip," Barasich adds.
In South Carolina, Mt. Pleasant shrimper Warren Rector quit the disappointing white-shrimp season early in order to perform some upgrades and maintenance on his vessel.
Rector, who has been shrimping out of Mt. Pleasant for decades and is known as Bubba to his friends, has found a way to make a bit more money on his shrimp and no longer sells to processors.
"We were selling retail," Rector says. "I don't even know what the truck price was."
"We started selling everything off the dock," notes Rector's wife, Pam. "It made a whole lot of difference.
Farther to the south, at Port Canaveral, Fla., Sherri McCoy, co-owner of Cape Canaveral Shrimp Co., reports that the white-shrimp season was "so-so" and the market generally was soft.
"It just seems like it's hard to move the shrimp," she says. "I think it probably due to the economy."
However, Cape Canaveral Shrimp Co. did have a pretty good season for its specialty, rock shrimp, largely because quantity made up for low price.
"A lot of pounds of rock shrimp kind of made up for the price," McCoy says.
In Biloxi, Miss., Richard Gollott, owner of Back Bay Seafood, also confirms that the price was down compared to 2008.
"It's down a lot," he says. "I think Thailand [exported to the United States] a ridiculous amount."
Gollott, a member of the American Shrimp Processors Association, is fighting a Southern Shrimp Alliance proposal to end antidumping tariffs on imports from Thailand in exchange for a lump-sum payment.
"The American people need to wake up," he says. — Hoyt Childers
Menu inroads, cheap dollars buttress?price for calamari, despite abundance
Calamari are as common now on American restaurant menus as hamburgers and burritos. That fact and a U.S. dollar that's cheap compared to the euro, making exported American seafood more competitive, have ensured that squid is still one bright spot in this great recession's seafood market.
Northeast prices for fresh loligo ran from 75 cents to 90 cents per pound for 4- to 8-inch tubes and $1.20 to $1.50 at times for larger squid. "The prices were not that much different from last year," says Fred Mattera, who owns the Rhode Island freezer-trawler Travis and Natalie. "There's still a very good domestic market, and because the dollar's weak, we're holding our share of the [export] market."
The global market took some time to absorb a record-setting 350,000 metric tons harvested from the South Atlantic's 2007 boom fishery, an event that shot Argentina back into position as No. 2 supplier behind China, albeit at much-lowered prices.
In contrast, the early 2009 squid fishery in the southwest Atlantic was a "disaster," according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which reported an overall catch there of 65,000 metric tons — not even 20 percent of the 2008 season. In 2009 the fishery took a severe beating, with illex catches down 73 percent from 2008, according to Argentine government reports.
With tightened supply and signs of economic recovery in the European Union, buyers in Europe are a little more optimistic about 2010.
"The market is not dying for squid," Mattera says. But South Atlantic fishermen are still waiting to see a reversal of poor catches from Argentina to Namibia, he says.
American squid fishermen are still limited by butterfish bycatch and seasonal quotas, and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council took steps to work through those problems.
Loligo and illex squid are also leading candidates to be considered for catch shares when the council holds a spring workshop on the concept, to be followed by scoping meetings to develop proposals. That process could decide how many fishermen and boats are allowed to migrate out of groundfish into the small-mesh pelagic fisheries.
Indices of butterfish in the fall 2008 survey by the Northeast Fishery Science Center, at Woods Hole, Mass., were up over the year before, while the spring 2009 survey showed a slight decline from 2007. A more recent stock assessment, compiled in December, was to be ready for review at the council's February meeting; those results will be a critical component for setting the butterfish bycatch cap that takes effect in 2011.
The Mid-Atlantic council is moving forward with Amendment 10 to the squid plan, which includes an increase in mesh size to 2 1/8 inches from ?1 7/8 inches, a move debated for several years among the council and its advisers. However, the smaller mesh size will be retained for the summer (trimester 2) seasons going forward, with the larger mesh required in the winter and fall.
The council kept its 2010 specification at 19,000 metric tons, same as it was last year, which was a boost up from 17,000 metric tons in 2008 and 12,342 tons caught in 2007.
There is a new tryout of rolling over catch shortfalls this year to better spread squid fishing through the four-month- trimester seasons.
If fishermen catch less than 25 percent of the first Winter I season quota — which, when successful, should account for 43 percent of the year's catch — that difference will be split evenly to add to the summer and fall/early winter trimesters in 2010.
Fishermen "had been catching squid in Trimester 2 and having shutdowns," Didden says. But with underharvests in the first and third trimesters, some years saw only half to two-thirds of the total quota used. — Kirk Moore
Alaska & Pacific Herring
Marketplace short on supply sets stage in an Alaska primed with good quotas
With Russian and Canadian herring production lagging in 2009, and with the West Coast fishery on hold until sufficient biomass returns, the Alaska fleet should enjoy a market short on ?supplies.
News of the San Francisco Bay herring-fishery shutdown last September might have come as a surprise to some, but biomass has been dwindling since 2005, says John Mello, senior biologist supervisor with the California Department of Fish and Game in Eureka, and there'll be no harvest for the current 2009-10 season
Mello says that in the past, his department has met resistance from the industry when low biomass estimates led to quota reductions. But not this time.
"[The fishermen] were seeing the same thing we're seeing," he says. And that is an apparent lack of herring.
In the 2005-06 season, California's fleet of around 30 gillnetters worked on a quota of 4,328 tons and came in with a harvest of 744 tons. A year later, the quota was the same, but fishermen netted only 292 tons. They saw a drastic reduction in the quota for the 2007-08 season when it dropped to 1,057 tons. Landings that season tallied up to 687 tons, and the 2008-09 season, with a quota of 1,019 tons, produced a harvest of 507 tons.
The biologists aren't sure what's going on. "We have definitely had some pretty big population swings from year to year," Mello says.
In consideration of spawn deposition surveys, recent harvests and other information, Mello says it's unlikely the fish are hiding out somewhere other than the traditional spawning grounds. "We're thinking that there was a very large mortality," he says.
Russian supplies headed for Japan, meanwhile, have been on the decline. According to November 2009 reports from Globefish, an international market and data service of the FAO, volumes of fresh and frozen herring exported by Russia to Japan between January and June fell from 5,700 metric tons in 2008 to 3,400 metric tons in 2009. Herring exported from the United States to ?Japan during the same period declined from 16,600 metric tons to 13,700 metric tons.
At the same time, harvest volumes from British Columbia have come in at about half strength. According to online reports from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, last year's harvest totaled around 12,800 metric tons, and the forecast for 2010 has been set at 12,648 metric tons.
A metric ton equals 1,000 kilograms, or 2,204.6 pounds.
That puts Alaska at the helm to supply the brunt of the roe-herring volume, and the upcoming season promises to send plenty of product overseas.
In November the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced a record harvest quota of 18,886 U.S. (2,000-pound) tons for the 2010 season at Sitka. Quotas during previous years have been upward of 14,000 tons. The 2010 gillnet and seine quotas for Togiak, meanwhile, have been set at 25,905 tons.
The average ex-vessel prices for fish caught at Sitka, according to data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, climbed from $475 per ton in 2007 to $750 in 2008, then settled at $720 per ton last year.
A good part of the healthy ex-vessel prices rides on the increasing strength of the Japanese yen over the dollar in the past few years. With the recovery of the yen (to below 100 to the dollar throughout 2009) Japanese consumers have apparently revisited traditional year-end gift-giving habits, which have been the driving force behind sales of salted herring roe.
"We have seen some appreciation for the herring roe from Bristol Bay and strong demand for herring roe from Sitka Sound," says Laura Fleming, director of communications for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. — Charlie Ess
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