MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
The good news is that red snapper stocks in the Gulf of Mexico have been rebuilt and the fishery has received a seal of approval from the Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. The bad news – at least for the commercial side of the fishery and the companies that buy and sell snapper – is that the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council wants to give most of the increase of the quota to sports fishermen.
The commercial fishing versus sports fishing battle in the Gulf is nothing new. Back in the 1980s New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme made blackened redfish a culinary craze. The Gulf Council responded by promptly eliminating the commercial fishery for redfish. But this time it is particularly galling to commercial fishermen who have made numerous sacrifices to rebuild the snapper fishery, only to see most of the gains given to the sport sector. Rubbing salt in the commercial sector’s wound is the fact that in recent years sports fishermen have overfished their quota, which is 49% of the total quota.
The latest brouhaha over snapper started last year, when biologists recommended increasing the red snapper quota from about 4,100 metric tons to almost 5,000 metric tons. A proposal supported by the Gulf Council allocates giving 75% of any increase in the quota over 4,100 metric tons to the sports sector. The controversial measure is being actively opposed by the commercial sector, including the powerful Louisiana Restaurant Association. A final decision is expected this summer.
In the meantime, commercial red snapper catches keep slowly increasing from about 1,400 metric tons in 2007, when an individual quota management system was enacted, to just under 2,000 metric tons last year. Over the same period the average ex-vessel price of red snapper has increased from $3.20/lb. to $3.38/lb. in spite of the 43% increase in supply. On the wholesale side, prices for fresh whole snapper have fluctuated between $5 and $7/lb. depending on landings.
The main sources of red snapper are the U.S. South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico (both U.S. and Mexico). Red snapper from the U.S. is almost always sold with the skin-on. When buying whole red snapper, look for deep red fins, pinkish-silver bellies, and red gills that look healthy. When buying fillets, choose skin-on as skin-off fillets might not be genuine red snapper. The white flesh of a red snapper should be moist and reflective, free of gaping and drying. When used for sushi, red snapper is known as tai although several other species are also marketed as tai. Beware of mislabeling: Red snapper sold on the West Coast may actually be rockfish, which has a very different texture and flavor
Due to elevated mercury:
FISHERY IMPACTS ON STOCK | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Fishery Impacts on Stock
Red snapper, found in the Atlantic from North Carolina to northern South America, the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, are slow growing, long lived and have moderate vulnerability to fishing pressure. Red snapper in the United States was heavily fished for decades, leading to it being overfished. The population has been rebuilding to the point where it is no longer experiencing overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico. However, red snapper in the South Atlantic is still well below the target level.
Fishermen primarily use hook and line gear in the form of handlines and electric reels to catch red snapper. This type of gear has a low impact on the ocean habitat, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. A very small percentage is also caught using longlines, which have a moderate impact on the habitat.
Sea turtles and sawfish are vulnerable to hook and line gear, the Blue Ocean Institute reported. In the Gulf of Mexico, fishermen using hook and line gear must use circle hooks and dehooking devices to help any non-targeted fish survive, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Snapper fishermen have inadvertently caught speckled hind, Warsaw grouper, gag grouper, loggerhead sea turtles, green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, snowy grouper, Atlantic bluefin tuna, and blacknose shark. But most of the non-targeted fish caught in the fishery are not species of concern, the Monterey Bay Aquarium reported. Juvenile red snapper is also accidentally caught by shrimp fishermen, who are attempting to reduce this bycatch through improved management measures, including the use of bycatch reduction devices.
NOAA Fisheries' South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils manage red snapper. They are considered moderately effective by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In 2010, red snapper harvesting in the South Atlantic was prohibited to help the population recover from overfishing. The fishery was reopened on a limited basis in September 2012. A rebuilding plan for the Gulf of Mexico was put into place in 2001. The Environmental Defense Fund credits an innovative catch share management plan implemented in 2007 with increasing the red snapper population in that area. Management measures for that red snapper fishery include catch limits, gear restrictions, minimum size limits, an individual fishing quota program and area closures.
The big fishery for market squid off California wrapped up in mid October as the 2013 quota of approximately 118,000 metric tons was landed. Fishermen fared even better this year as squid were worth about $700/metric ton at the dock, up from last year’s high price of $660/metric ton. That’s a higher price than fishermen got in 2008, when they only landed 38,000 metric tons. The heavy landings and high prices made for some big paydays for the 66-boat squid fleet, where the average boat landed $1.2 million worth of squid this fall.
More than half the California catch is exported to China, where a large percentage is processed into tubes and tentacles and exported back to the U.S.
On the East Coast, the state of the squid fishery is a different story as again this year fishermen will fail to catch their quota of either shortfin or longfin squid, each of which has a quota of about 24,000 metric tons. At of the end of November, East Coast boats had landed about 4,000 metric tons of shortfin squid (also called Illex squid) and about 9,500 metric tons of longfin squid (also called Pealeii squid).
Even though East Coast boats are getting about $2,000/ton for longfin squid, fishermen say it’s hard to make money. Fishing for shortfin squid, which fetches only about $800/ton is hardly worth it, fishermen say.
On the import side, through October U.S. imports were off slightly to about 58,000 metric tons, with China accounting for just over half of the total. The average price to importers was running just under $2/lb. for cleaned tubes and tentacles from China.
Market squid have eight arms and two tentacles, as well as a milky and purple iridescent coloring that can change depending on environmental factors. Squid available year-round frozen, whole, or cleaned. It is also sold as frozen tubes, tentacles, and the rings are marketed breaded or unbreaded. Some buyers suggest looking for tender squid that’s ivory colored with white skin, which indicates higher quality. Improperly frozen squid will have a reddish tinge and poor quality squid will smell like iodine or ammonia. California market squid is a good substitution for expensive shellfish like clams and shrimp.
fresh & frozen products
Squid may be substituted for expensive shellfish.
SPECIES VULNERABILITY | ABUNDANCE | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
California market squid is a fast-growing species that reproduces at a young age, making it resilient to fishing pressure. According to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, the entire market squid population can replace itself annually.
This type of squid’s survival hinges on factors such as ocean temperature and the availability of prey so abundance varies widely and is sometimes unknown, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Blue Ocean Institute reports that there are no statistically sound population estimates of this squid, but says that the species is not being overfished.
California market squid are caught with purse seine nets. This type of gear can cause some habitat damage as the purse seines may come into contact with the seafloor, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. However, the Blue Ocean Institute suggests that generally squid fishermen avoid fishing over rocky bottoms and shallow waters to prevent damaging their nets so contact with the seafloor is limited. Squid are drawn to light, so fishing vessels work with "light boats" that are equipped with high-powered lights to attract squid. The Blue Ocean Institute noted that the high light levels were thought to have a negative effect on nesting seabirds in the Channel Islands.
Squid fishing entails the use of powerful lights to attract squid to the fishing boats, which then encircle schools of fish with nets so bycatch in this fishery is minimal, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The lights alone prevent accidental captures. The Blue Ocean Institute designates the bycatch level in this fishery as unknown. Observed bycatch include sardines, mackerel, and anchovies. The Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute note that squid squid egg capsules are a bycatch issue and could have an effect on the population, making it a source of concern.
The California market squid fishery is managed by the California Department of Fish and Game. Monitoring and scientific research is conducted in cooperation with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service. Maximum sustainable yield is determined by monitoring landings and abundance indices. Management measures include a seasonal catch limit, time and seasonal closures, as well as a permit system, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. However, a continuing lack of accurate stock estimates are cause for concerns about the fishery’s sustainability, according to the Blue Ocean Institute.
Although West Coast fisheries biologists say fishermen off California, Oregon and Washington could catch as much as 25,000 metric tons of Dover on a sustainable basis, annual catches the past few years have hovered just above 5,000 metric tons. Part of the lack of Dover production is due to the catch share, or individual quota, management regime, which was enacted in 2011. That greatly reduced the size of the groundfish fleet and the boats left focus on higher value species like petrale sole or black cod. As the old fishermen’s axiom goes, “We don’t fish for fish, we fish for money.”
Another problem is that the market for Dover is still limited to the western U.S., especially the Northwest. Although with fresh fillets selling for just under $4/lb. Dover remains a good value, producers have yet to spend much effort developing new markets.
Processors have upped what they pay for Dover from $.40/lb. two years ago to $.44/lb. last year, but that’s not even enough to cover increased operating expenses. So for the foreseeable future, fishermen will turn to Dover when there’s nothing better to do.
Pacific Dover sole is sold fresh and frozen whole, headed and gutted as well as dressed, and in fillets, however it is nearly always filleted due to its slimy skin. Dover sole from the Pacific has a delicate taste and firm-textured flesh, although it is not as mild as European Dover sole. Since flatfish quality can vary immensely, buyers recommend looking for Dover sole that has uniform color and lacks bruises. They also recommend against purchasing these fish whole since soft-fleshed fish may not be detected until after they’ve been filleted. Availability of Dover fresh sole varies throughout the year while frozen or thawed Dover sole primarily from Alaska is available year-round.
Dover sole may be substituted for other types of flounders and soles.
Pacific Dover sole is not actually sole but a flatfish more closely related to flounder. Larger in size than European Dover sole, Dover sole found in the Pacific is long-lived and has medium fecundity. Dover sole are also known as “slime” or “slippery” sole because they excrete mucous that makes them difficult to hold.
Dover sole, found in the waters off California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska, have variable abundance that is considered healthy overall. Dover sole levels in the Gulf of Alaska have been increasing in the past 15 years and the biomass there is now more than double the target population level.
Dover sole are primarily caught using trawls. Other gear used includes hand lines and traps. While trawls can negatively impact rocky seafloors and reefs, the trawls in this fishery target the flatfish in the soft muddy areas where they live. Those areas tend to be more resilient to trawling, so the impact is minimal.
There is little bycatch in the Pacific Dover sole fishery, helped by a relatively new catch-share management plan on the West Coast and gear improvements that help trawler avoid bycatch hotspots, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
Dover sole in the Pacific are managed with other deep-water flatfish such as petrale sole. Management limits on petrale sole, which was overfished, are expected to have a positive impact on Dover sole, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Management measures in the fishery include gear restrictions, limited entry permitting, a catch-share program, area closures, and conservative annual catch limits.
The supply of Atlantic pollock, a.k.a. saithe, is declining slightly due to quota reductions on both sides of the Atlantic. The single biggest Atlantic pollock fishery, which is off Norway, should produce landings of about 140,000 metric tons this year, down about 6,000 metric tons from last year. At the annual Groundfish Forum, which was held in Rome this fall, the supply was predicted to be about the same in 2015.
Closer to home it looks like landings of Atlantic pollock from the U.S. and Canada fisheries will be about 10,000 metric tons, which should be about evenly split between the two countries. U.S. fishermen, though, may be hard pressed to catch their full quota due to the increasingly strict cod by-catch regulations, as cod stocks in the Gulf of Maine are at record low levels.
Imports of twice-frozen Atlantic pollock fillets from China have dropped sharply this year. Through August, U.S. imports from China were just 441 metric tons, compared to about 1,000 metric tons last year. In spite of the sharp drop in supply, the average price to importers dropped from $1.14/lb. to $1.04/lb.
On the fresh side of the business, prices on the Fulton Fish market in New York have been running between $1.50-$3.50/lb. for whole fish, depending upon supply.
Atlantic pollock is low in saturated fat and is an excellent source of protein, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium. The flesh is firm and white, and has a sweet, delicate flavor. This pollock is a member of the cod family but distinguished from cod by its greenish hue, paler belly, and brownish green back. It is sold whole, in fillets, and steaks that are fresh, frozen, or smoked. Atlantic pollock are larger, slightly darker flesh, and have higher oil content than Alaskan pollock, which is actually a different species.
Atlantic pollock may be substituted for Atlantic cod, monkfish, sea bass.
Atlantic pollock matures quickly and has high reproduction rates, which are characteristics that make its inherent vulnerability to fishing pressure low.
Although the Canadian pollock fishery was historically overfished, it is currently recovering. In the United States, the Atlantic pollock fishery is rather small but considered healthy. Norwegian pollock stocks are also stable and healthy. In Iceland, overfishing is occurring and the Atlantic pollock stock status is poor, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The gear used to catch Atlantic pollock varies by region, but consists primarily of bottom trawls, bottom gillnets and Danish seines. Bottom trawls and Danish seines can heavily impact the seafloor and damage ocean habitat while the purse seines that are predominant in the small Norwegian fishery have little contact with the seafloor.
Bycatch levels in the Canadian, Norwegian, and Iceland pollock fisheries remain unknown, although the risk is considered to be moderate based on the gear used, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Bottom gillnets risk ensnaring marine animals, and have been a high concern in both the U.S. and Canada due to documented incidents where protected species were caught. In addition, lost gillnets in the eastern Atlantic have entangled non-targeted fish long after they’ve been abandoned.
Management measures in the U.S. as well as the North Sea or Northeast Arctic regions of Norway are considered highly effective. They include area closures, size limits, gear restrictions, dockside monitoring, logbook reporting, catch quotas, and observer coverage. In Iceland and Canada, extensive management measures are in place but total allowable catch levels have still been set higher than scientific recommendations. Management effectiveness in these countries continues to be a moderate concern.
This year’s quota for this prized fish is up again to just under 3 million pounds, as the stocks along the East Cast are considered fully rebuilt. As of May 14th fishermen had caught about 43% of their quota. Landings should pick up in late May and June as more fish migrate up the East Coast to Virginia and New Jersey, which are the two top black sea bass producing states. As landings pick up, prices to distributors for whole black sea bass should stabilize between $4 to $5/lb.
Black sea bass flesh is firm and lean, with a mild, delicate flavor. According to some buyers, black sea bass that are caught with hooks tend to be the best quality, followed by trapped fish. Make sure the uncooked flesh is sparkling white and translucent, not opague. Black sea bass tends to only be frozen when the market is glutted or demand is low and because it is a hardy fish, it is also sold live.
Black sea bass can be used as a substitution for a variety of snapper.
Due to elevated mercury levels, the EDF recommends:
Black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning they start as females and mature into males. They have high fecundity but they grow slowly. Black sea bass are divided into two fisheries, the Mid-Atlantic and the South Atlantic, with the line marked by Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. In 2000 the Mid-Atlantic stock was declared overfished. In 2005 scientists discovered overfishing was occurring in the South Atlantic. In recent years both populations have recovered and an early 2013 Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch report stated they were classified as not overfished.
Most black sea bass are caught by commercial fishermen using with pots and hook and line gear, which has a low to moderate effect on the seafloor. Some black sea bass in the Mid-Atlantic is also caught using otter trawls, which have higher rates of habitat damage, particularly to live coral and reef habitats. For this reason, the Monterey Bay Aquarium gave the otter trawl for northern black sea bass a red ranking. Trawling has been banned in the South Atlantic for more than 20 years.
Black sea bass fisheries have gear requirements such as escape vents in pots to prevent undersized fish from being caught. Bycatch in pots is minor because the gear is not usually baited for black sea bass, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. In the Mid-Atlantic, otter trawls are nonselective so there is more unintended bycatch. The Monterey Bay Aquarium reported that the Mid-Atlantic otter trawl fishery was shown to have a negative impact on loggerhead turtles, which are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
In the Mid-Atlantic fishery, strict management measures such as minimum size limits, minimum mesh requirements for trawls, a moratorium on entry into the fishery, and closed seasons have helped black sea bass stocks recover from being overfished. The post-2005 rebuilding plan for the South Atlantic included limits on permits, minimum size limits, gear restrictions as well as rules that prohibited commercial fishing once the annual quota has been met. The Monterey Bay Aquarium called fishery management in both regions highly effective in its 2013 Seafood Watch report.
Give Arctic char farmers credit. They don’t give up easily. For almost 20 years the global production of farmed Arctic char has been stuck at about 4,000 metric tons a year. And that’s despite tens of millions of dollars in research and development that have been poured into the industry by governments and private companies. The biggest char farmer in Canada, which still produces only about 175 metric tons a year after being in operation more than 30 years.
Iceland is likely to remain the only significant source of char on a reliable basis. The two large land-based farms there are producing about two-thirds of the country’s annual harvest of about 3,200 metric tons. Some 90 percent of those farms’ production is exported to the U.S. Don’t expect any breakthrough on char production in the immediate future. Char farmers are faced with soaring feed costs, which is making a very expensive fish even more so. Upscale chefs who can menu a char dinner for $30 and up still love the fish, but that market is relatively small.
Buyers consider Artic char a good substitute for farm-raised salmon because it has a more delicate texture and clean, mild flavor. Farmed Arctic char are sold fresh whole, and fresh or frozen as boneless fillets with the skin off or on, and canned. Farmed char has redder skin than wild char (more silver skinned) and cream-colored spots, however arctic char farmers add a synthetic pigment to the feed to give the fish a consistent pink-orange color. The high fat content in Arctic char makes it well-suited for dry-heat cooking such as broiling and smoking. Arctic char tends to be considered of very high quality and not widely available making it expensive.
Arctic char may be used as a substitute for farmed salmon.
Health & Nutrition
DATA | EFFLUENT | HABITAT IMPACTS | FEED | STOCK SOURCE | DISEASE/CHEMICALS | ESCAPES
Arctic char farming facilities exist in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Austria and Italy but the majority of the fish comes from Iceland, Canada, and the United States. In Iceland, industry and production statistics come from government or independently verifiable sources but there are little data in English about ecosystem and farm effluent discharge, according to a recent Seafood Watch report. In the United States and Canada, where the industry is smaller, production and industry statistics are lacking. Seafood Watch gave the U.S., Canada, and Iceland moderate ratings overall for data availability.
Operations are primarily land-based and either use recirculating tank systems that treat and reuse wastewater or flow-through systems. With recirculating tank systems, the water quality is closely controlled. There have been increased nutrients found near some flow-through systems discharging freshwater effluent into coastal waterways but the overall concern over effluent impact is low, according to a recent Seafood Watch report.
Land-based Arctic char farming generally takes place in closed, recirculating systems that treat their water so there is a low risk of pollution and negative effects on native habitats. In Iceland, flow-through farms send freshwater effluent into coastal areas that have high currents, preventing waste from accumulating, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In Sweden, Arctic char operations are intentionally located in freshwater reservoirs that are depleted and unproductive because the discharges increase the amount of nutrients in the water, providing a beneficial effect. A Seafood Watch report found that Arctic char aquaculture in Iceland, Canada, and the United States has a minimal impact on habitats there.
Since Arctic char is a carnivorous fish, it has a high dietary protein requirement. Some farmers feed Arctic char fish meal and fish oil from wild-caught fish, which may put pressure on those populations. Feed formulations are often proprietary, making them difficult for outside scientists to assess, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A recent Seafood Watch report gave Arctic char farming in Iceland, Canada, and the United States a moderate score for feed because it relies on crops that humans eat.
All Arctic char aquaculture stock is produced in hatcheries from captive broodstock, making the industry independent from wild stocks for sourcing, the Monterey Bay Aquarium reported.
Arctic char has a complex genetic makeup that makes it challenging for farmers to selectively breed char with favorable characteristics. However, the fish are suited to growing in smaller, densely stocked habitats. Disease transmission risk is very low in Arctic char aquaculture due to careful management. The species has a low need for chemical use or treatments over multiple production cycles, according to a Seafood Watch report.
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