Despite the coronavirus pandemic — or maybe because of it — the market for yellowfin tuna from the Gulf of Mexico is holding up just fine.

David Maginnis, operator of Jensen Tuna in Houma, La., the major supplier of gulf yellowfin, says he’s seeing stronger demand for domestic product — especially the higher quality, sushi-grade fish known as No. 1.

“I can’t get enough No. 1 to supply the demand,” Maginnis said, adding that boat prices for the top grade are between $6.50 and $7 per pound — “pretty much the norm for this time of year.”

The coronavirus scare, he said, is driving some anxious consumers to strip grocery store shelves of available protein sources — “a little spike at the retailer.”

“At the seafood counter, they have a little bit of salmon, catfish, but not much of anything else,” Maginnis said. But he noted that restaurants are taking a hit as most consumers are eating at home.

He says competition from foreign suppliers comes mainly in the No. 2 category. While Maginnis said he pays his boats about $3.50 per pound, imported fish from Central and South America and Africa are selling as low as $1.75 per pound.

Maginnis said rough weather has been the main reason for less tuna hitting his docks so far this spring.

“We’ve been getting front after front after front,” he said. “It’s been hampering production.”

Indeed, preliminary 2020 U.S. commercial landings data from NMFS show the yellowfin harvest is down from the same time last year: about 49 metric tons (108,000 pounds whole weight) compared with about 69 metric tons (152,000 pounds) in 2019.

Because of fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, Maginnis said, “it’s a revolving issue every day, a fluid situation.”

Sue Cocking spent more than 20 years as the outdoors writer at the Miami Herald, covering everything from commercial and recreational fishing to powerboat racing and scuba diving. She once worked as a light-tackle charter boat fishing captain in Key West and had an 18-year career in radio news broadcasting. She lives in Sebastian, Fla.

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