Fish Factor: 2020 seafood harvest in line with previous years
Cordova Times by Laine Welch - October 5, 2020
Some surprising results are revealed in the first of a series of briefing papers showing how Alaska’s seafood industry has been affected by the pandemic from dock to dinner plates.
In a down market, Alaska fishermen avert disaster by feeding families in need
KCAW by Erin McKinstry - October 1, 2020
It’s been a hard season for small fishermen in many parts of Alaska because of economic losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But a seafood donation program started by a Sitka organization is helping bring some stability to fishermen and consumers during an uncertain time.
ADF&G Press Release: Fisheries Assistance Spend Plan Available for Public Comment
ADF&G by Doug Vincent-Lang - October 5, 2020
(Anchorage, AK) — The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today released the Section 12005 CARES Act fisheries assistance draft spend plan for public comment (www.adfg.alaska.gov). The draft spend plan provides eligibility criteria for participants in seafood processing, commercial harvesting, sport charter, subsistence, and aquaculture.
National Seafood Month festivities begin in the US with promotions, education outreach
Seafood Source by Christine Blank - October 5, 2020
U.S. retailers, restaurants, seafood suppliers, and organizations are celebrating October – National Seafood Month – with promotions as well as education on their sustainability and traceability initiatives.
COVID-19 Leaves Fisheries Observers in the Dark
Maritime Executive by Todd Woody - October 4, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic does not appear to have hindered the distant-water fleets of China and other major fishing nations, but it has largely sidelined the fishery observers and port officials who monitor illegal fishing.
The Winding Glass: Alaska Snow Crab Quota up 11 Million Lbs, Won't Change Dynamic of Oversold Market
SeafoodNews.com by John Sackton - October 5, 2020
[The Winding Glass is the opinion and commentary column by John Sackton, Founder of SeafoodNews]
The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game announced the 2020/2021 crab quotas late Friday afternoon.
Mostly the results confirmed industry expectations, although snow crab increases where lower than hoped.
For red king crab, the precarious nature of the stock has led to a cut of 1.15 million lbs, which is 30% below the 3.8 million pounds quota set in 2019.
The stock has been on a long term decline, and earlier management strategies would have completely closed the fishery. However, in recent years ADF&G has revised some of the thresholds, so that a weak recruitment leads to lower harvest levels, but not a shut down of the entire fishery.
With conservative management, the stock is neither overfished nor subject to overfishing. The allowable biological catch has declined from 6 million lbs in 2019 to 3.54 million lbs in 2020, with the TAC set well below this level at 2.648 million lbs.
Russian catches of red king crab are stable, and the loss of 1.15 million pounds in Alaska quota should continue the trend of high king crab demand and pricing.
For snow crab, the 2019 Alaska harvest was 34 million lbs., with a biomass projected at 368 million lbs. Snow crab recruitment is very strong, and the projection biomass for 2020 was to grow to 610.2 million lbs, a 66% increase.
However, due to the pandemic no crab trawl surveys were conducted this summer, so the TAC was set based on a continuation of trends identified in 2019. For this reason, ADF&G was more conservative increasing the TAC than the projected biomass might call for, with a 32% increase to 45 million lbs. in 2020.
There will also be a small Bairdi or tanner crab fishery this year west of longitude 166 of 2.348 million lbs. Again, there was no survey, but there has been considerable revisions to the Bairdi crab models in the last few years, and the current ABC matches that of 2017-18, when the fishery was last opened.
The snow crab announcement is generally looked upon as an important market indicator for the coming year.
This year, snow crab has been one of the top selling seafood products, so much so that unlike many fisheries which have seen lower values in the pandemic due to the cutback in foodservice demand, snow crab is currently oversold, and back up to record price levels.
For the U.S., the volumes of snow crab imports will increase substantially in 2020, and although the average value for the year will be lower than in 2019, current market prices are higher than 2019 despite the surge in imports.
As someone who has been active in analyzing crab markets for many years, I have asked myself why snow crab appears to have such strong market demand, leading to its trading in a consistently higher range over time.
Practically no other major seafood product has the same experience. Shrimp, salmon, cod, catfish and pollock, for example, are all trading in ranges that have been relatively stable for 10 or 20 years. Prices go up and down, but we do not see a long term pattern of higher value.
Snow crab, by contrast, is twice as valuable than it was during the period from 1995 to 2010. And for the past five years it has stayed that way.
This year, despite the pandemic, snow crab in Canada was a huge success story. At the beginning of the season, it was not even known if the season could take place. Shutdowns were in place across much of Canada and the U.S. It was not clear if plants could operate, or that there would be a real market.
In the face of this uncertainty, crab producers in Canada priced initial offerings about 20% lower than the prior year, to boost the confidence in the market that crab would indeed move. This strategy worked.
Most people don’t realize how critical the first week or 10 days of a fishery can be, as buyers make decisions to commit or hold back. If they had held back on snow crab, the market value could have collapsed given the uncertainty people were experiencing.
Instead, the first loads at the new prices moved quickly, and within 10 days there was strong confidence in re-orders, and a scramble developed for retail orders, leading to a recovery in pricing.
What is it about snow crab that is putting prices so consistently at these historically high levels.
I believe there are several underlying factors.
First, crab sells. It is a vital component of retail seafood programs, and it is a requirement for certain types of foodservice buffet at mid-scale restaurant programs. Most buyers don’t have the option of staying out of the crab market.
Secondly, it has had more promotion over the past 10 years than any other seafood product. The reason is the "Deadliest Catch" TV show. This show, which started in 2005 and is now in its 16th season, romanticizes Bering sea crab fishing and allows audiences to identify with their favorite crab captains. It has consistently led in television ratings, and has given the Discovery channel the highest audience ratings among prime time cable television.
It is well known that when Red Lobster does national advertising for seafood items, sales pick up for the same items at many other restaurants besides Red Lobster. In this case, crab has benefitted from hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of television exposure consistently, year after year.
It is my view that this exposure has increased demand for snow crab.
Third, crab is precooked and sold in a ready to eat format. No one has to be a seafood cook to serve crab legs. It does not have the risk that is expressed by consumers around cooking other seafood items.
Fourth, the market power of Japanese purchasing has waned. As their population ages and economy stagnates, there has been a long term decline in the volume of snow crab sold in Japan. This has made Japanese buyers less competitive with U.S. buyers, leading to a greater share of the total global supply going to the US.
Fifth, snow crab is expanding its footprint beyond the U.S. and Japan. Snow crab is an ideal product for sale online in China, as it can be shipped frozen, and still has the appeal of a new shellfish. China used to be almost exclusively a reprocessing center for snow crab that would support the sushi market in Japan. As this channel has declined and prices have risen, it has opened the door to more consumption of in-shell snow crab in China. With a high raw material cost commodity, it is more profitable to sell the product with the shell, rather than as crabmeat. So markets like China which already accept in-shell crab can expand while markets like Japan, where most snow crab was consumed as sushi, contracts.
Also the Norwegian Barents Sea fishery has been introducing snow crab to Europe, which could also become a future source of demand. On a global level, the number of markets and potential customers is increasing.
What does all this mean for the Alaskan and Canadian seasons? First, the snow crab production in Alaska, which is controlled by 4 major companies, will mostly go to program sales and is not going to be widely available on the spot market, even with an 11 million lbs. increase. It will mean that buyers who have had to source outside of Alaska due to shortages in past years will now have the option to take a higher percentage of their total buy from Alaska.
For the Canadians, crab is currently oversold. That means the strength of the Russian crab imports right now is largely because there has been more crab promised in the market than has actually been secured during the Canadian season. So crab traders are scrambling to cover their inventories.
This means that there will be little crab in the market when the 2021 Canadian season opens. The big question is not whether prices will be lower. They almost always come down at the beginning of the season. The question is how much, and given the experience of this year, it is possible that sellers will position crab aggressively against whatever market situation is in play next spring.
So far, the category has largely survived aggressive positioning without collapse. We will have to see if that process repeats again in the coming year.
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