MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
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.
SPECIES VULNERABILITY | ABUNDANCE | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
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.
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.
fresh & frozen products
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.
BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
The highest quality lingcod is caught by hook-and-line gear and when the fish is bled and put on ice immediately. Most lingcod is caught as bycatch in other fisheries, but there are some targed fisheries, namely Southeast Alaska. Raw lingcod flesh can have a blue-green tint, this is perfectly normal, and when cooked it turns a snow white color. Look for a grayish flesh color and/or blood spots to signal mishandling and dull eyes and faded gills on whole lingcod indicate a lack of freshness.
Many chefs prefer lingcod to halibut.
SUMMARY | BIOLOGY | HABITAT
Lingcod is neither a cod, nor a ling, but rather it is a Pacific greenling. Found only in the North Pacific Ocean, U.S. and Canadian fishermen have been harvesting lingcod for more than 100 years. Nicknamed "bucketmouth" for its large head, lingcod have 18 sharp teeth. The body of the lingcod tapers from its head to its tail and its back is usually a variation of dark gray, brown, and greenish colors with copper colored spotting on the upper back.
Lingcod grow quickly and can reach lengths of five feet weighing 80lbs.. Lingcod can live up to 20 years with males reaching maturity around age 2 (20" long) and females age 3 (30" long). The spawing process of lingcod involves males claiming suitable territory for nesting, females making only a brief appearance to lay eggs, and males guarding the nests until they hatch in 8-10 weeks. As lingcod develop they move from eating zooplankton as larvae, shellfish as small juveniles, small finfish (such as herring) as large juveniles, until they become aggressive predators as adults feeding on bottom dwelling fish and shellfish. Larval and juvenile lingcod are important food sources for salmon and rockfish, while marine mammals and sharks rely on large juvenile and adult lingcod as food sources.
Lingcod are found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from northern Baja California to Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, but they are most abundant between Washington and British Columbia. Adult lingcod prefer rocky bottoms at depths of 30-300 feet with males showing very little movement from where they were born and females migrating seasonally to spawn.
FISHERY SCIENCE | FISHERY MANAGEMENT
There are currently no population estimates of lingcod in Alaska and the populations along the U.S.West Coast are estimated from analyzing data from resource surveys and fishery monitoring.
The State of Alaska manages the lingcod fishery in both state and federal waters of Alaska. To protect this species from overharvest, lingcod fisheries in Alaska are conservatively managed to ensure enough fish are left to reproduce and replenish the population. Management measures:
Current management of lingcod on the West Coast is covered under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
Since January 2011, the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery has been managed under a trawl rationalization catch share program. Managers establish annual catch limits based on the health of each fish stock and then allocate a share of this catch limit to individual fishermen or groups of fishermen. Fishermen can decide how and when to catch their share – preferably when weather, markets, and business conditions are most favorable, allowing the fishery the flexibility to be more environmentally responsible, safer, more efficient, and more valuable. The goal is to allow fishermen to catch more of the healthy target stocks (such as lingcod) without increasing their harvest of overfished stocks.
FISHERY IMPACTS ON STOCK | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Fishery Impacts on Stock
Lingcod is actually a bottom-dwelling Pacific greenling harvested from Alaska to California with the most concentrated around British Columbia and Washington. They grow quickly, the females are fairly fertile and the males guard nests until the eggs hatch although many animals eat the eggs. Seafood Watch reports from 2014 give lingcod a medium inherent vulnerability score overall. In 1999 lingcod was declared overfished but several years of strict catch limits helped the fishery get rebuilt ahead of schedule in 2005. Assessments from 2009 showed the stock to be well over target levels, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.
Lingcod are mainly caught by bottom trawls and handlines in the groundfish fishery. They can get accidentally caught by the bottom longline and salmon troll fisheries, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service reported. Bottom trawlers can have a significant impact on the ocean habitat but restrictions in place limit the use of this gear, somewhat mitigating the effect, according to 2014 Seafood Watch reports for the West Coast and British Columbia.
Although bycatch used to be an issue in the lingcod fisheries, bycatch went down 75% following the implementation of a management plan on the West Coast in 2011, the Environmental Defense Fund noted. Improved gear has also helped trawlers targeting lingcod avoid bycatch hotspots. There are generally few true “bycatch” species caught in substantial amounts in the groundfish fisheries, Seafood Watch reports from 2014 noted.
In Alaska, lingcod is managed by the Department of Fish and Game. The lingcod fisheries are managed with other groundfish by the NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council on the West Coast, and by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in British Columbia. The catch-share management plan implemented in 2011 on the West Coast has been credited with bringing down bycatch numbers in the fishery. Management measures include gear and catch restrictions, minimum size limits, and seasonal closures. Seafood Watch found that the West Coast and Canadian lingcod management regimes had strong aspects. However, a 2014 report noted challenges with management strategy, implementation, and recovery of stocks of concern in British Columbia.
Still widely known as “poor man’s lobster,” monkfish will be easier to come by now that NMFS has tweaked the byzantine rules they use to manage what’s left of the groundfish fleet off the Northeast. Under the new rules, which were approved this February, the groundfish fleet can have separate “monkfish days at sea,” which will not be counted against the boat’s “groundfish days at sea.” In addition, NMFS has raised the amount of monkfish a boat can offload on a given trip from 300 pounds to 600 pounds.
The result is that fishermen will be more likely to catch the total monkfish quota, which is about 6,000 metric tons off New England and almost 9,000 metric tons in the mid-Atlantic region. Monkfish stocks in both areas are considered to be in very good shape and no overfishing is occurring.
There’s a good chance the price of fresh monkfish tails, which have been selling to Northeast distributors in the $6-$7/lb. range, could ease back to the $5-$6/lb. level as landings pick up this spring.
Monkfish have a mild taste and texture similar to lobster to the extent that they are sometimes called “the poor man’s lobster.” Fishermen tend to remove monkfish tail meat and livers to sell, discarding the rest. Monkfish is sold fresh whole, in skinless tail fillets, and whole skin-on tail fillets as well as frozen skinless tail fillets and whole skin-on tails. The tail meat is dense, boneless, firm and should have flesh that’s off-white to pale gray when raw. Avoid tails that are discolored at the edges and headless monkfish that have dried up blood, indicating it’s begun to age.
Monkfish may be substituted for lobster and scallops
The FDA advises children (ages 0-6) limit consumption to 3 meals/month
Monkfish, a deep-water species found along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and Canada, have characteristics including slow growth and dense aggregation that make them vulnerable to fishing pressure. Following increased demand in the 1980s and 1990s, monkfish were found to be overfished in 1999. Fishery managers implemented a rebuilding plan and in 2008, monkfish was declared rebuilt. Stock assessments done in 2013 showed that monkfish is not overfished or subject to overfishing, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.
Monkfish are caught with either bottom gillnets or bottom trawls. While bottom trawls and gillnets can have a significant impact on seafloor habitat, the gear used to catch monkfish operates in muddy and sandy areas that tend to be resilient to disturbance, the Blue Ocean Institute reported.
The monkfish fishery has bycatch that has included protected species such as sea turtles, large whales, harbor porpoises and Atlantic sturgeon, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Bycatch primarily occurs through entanglements with gillnets, but strict measures are being taken to reduce the risk. The Blue Ocean Institute reported that it is difficult to attribute gillnet deaths of marine animals and turtles to a particular fishery.
Monkfish fishery management measures include area closures, area restrictions, annual catch limits, minimum harvest size and gear requirements such as limits on large-mesh gillnets. The Monterey Bay Aquarium reports that total allowable catches have been frequently exceeded in the past, although the fishery has been improving on that in recent years. The monkfish fishery previously had an "Avoid (red)" rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium but management actions and changes to the biomass targets helped that change to a "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating in 2012.
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:
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.
Bay scallops were a much better business last year than in 2012, when the market collapsed most of the year, inflicting painful losses for anyone holding inventory. Prices to East Coast distributors started out 2013 at about $3.90/lb. for 80/120 count China bays and rose steadily to a high of $4.25/lb. by the fall as importers ran low on inventory. This January prices were holding at that level, but buyers expected a drop as shipments from the big fall season in China begin arriving in large quantities. By most reports, Chinese scallop farmers had an average harvest last fall.
Last year, U.S. imports of China bays were expected to be about 8,000 metric tons of meats, a healthy jump from 2102 imports, which were just 4,500 metric tons, the lowest volume since 1992. The record for China bay imports was 14,000 metric tons in 2006, but growing domestic demand in China for both live and dried scallops will continue to keep U.S. imports from ever reaching that level again. Long term, look for imports of China bays to continue on a slow, steady decline and prices will likely remain at historically high levels due to domestic demand in China. If China continues to allow its currency, the renminbi, to appreciate, this trend could accelerate.
Closer to home, the U.S. harvest of bay scallops in New York and Massachusetts has stabilized at about 80 metric tons the past few years. These true bays (the same species was introduced to Chinese aquaculturists in the 1980s) have a small but loyal following in the Northeast. Prices to wholesalers typically run north of $15/lb. for the few weeks in the late fall when the short season opens in Nantucket and Long Island Sounds.
The worst time to buy scallops is after they have spawned because the adductor muscle is soft and discolored and sheds moisture easily. The best time to buy scallops is in the late summer when prices are low and the quality has improved following the spring spawn. Scallop meats are sold by count per pound, with a premium being paid for larger size meats (lower count per pound). The trick to sea scallops is to not pay $10/lb. for water. Dry scallops will feel sticky whereas a soaked scallop will feel soapy or slick. Although very small quantities of U.S. scallops are harvested inshore by divers, the term “diver” scallops refers to a dry scallop that has not been treated by sodium tripolyphosphate. The phosphates allow the scallop to hold more water, sometimes 20% more. Most scallops are treated using phosphates and even dry scallops are often washed in tripolyphosphate.
Scallops harvested at the wrong time can contain toxic algae which causes Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP).
POLLUTION & HABITAT | MARINE RESOURCES | RISK TO WILD STOCKS | MANAGEMENT | ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS
Bay scallops are farmed primarily using lantern-shaped nets suspended from long lines underwater either on the seafloor or in a water column. Most bay scallops come from Chinese farmers, although there are some farmers in New England. Bay scallops filter the water so farmers don’t use treatment on them and farming of this species doesn’t create waste.
Since scallops are filterfeeders that actually remove plankton from the water, no additional feed is used in bay scallop farming operations.
Although there is little information available about the environmental impacts of Chinese bay scallop operations, the scallop seems unable to survive on their own in China’s cold water and no wild populations have been reported there to date. Operations in Japan and the U.S. don’t represent a risk to other marine life.
The U.S. and Canada have strict rules for aquaculture, but China has been struggling with water quality and pollution problems in its coastal environment, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Shellfish farmers there have little control over industrial and agricultural pollution, so it’s unusual for there to be management processes in place to deal with the problem. There is little information available about best management practices for sea scallop farming operations in Asia, according to the aquarium.
Swordfish supplies are up due to a surge in both fresh and frozen imports. Through the end of April, total U.S. imports of swordfish surged almost 50% to just under 2,200 metric tons. Big increases in fresh imports from Ecuador (up 135% to 313 metric tons), Mexico (up 110% to 267 metric tons) and Panama (up 190% to 201 metric tons) were the main reason imports of fresh sword were up 46% over last year to 1,527 metric tons. Even the fishermen from Moloolaba were landing more sword, as the Aussies exported 120 metric tons of sword to the U.S. through April, triple what they exported last year.
In spite of the surge in fresh sword imports, average import prices declined only $.05/lb. to $3.85/lb. for whole fish. On the wholesale side, fresh sword prices for markers FOB Miami dropped sharply from $8/lb. in January to $3.50/lb. in late May before recovering to almost $6/lb. in late June. Look for fresh prices to drop again through the summer and early fall, as New England and Canadian catches off the Grand Banks peak. The U.S. swordfish quota in the Atlantic is approximately 3,000 metric tons again this year, but the U.S. fleet will be lucky to catch much more than half of their quota due to various management restrictions. Meanwhile, the Hawaiian fleet should land about 1,000 metric tons again this year, while the California gillnet season, which runs from August to January, should produce about 250 metric tons.
On the frozen side, imports of loins were 325 metric tons, up slightly from last year. Supplies of steaks, on the other hand doubled to 236 metric tons as imports from Spain went from practically nothing to almost 130 metric tons due to the weak condition of the Spanish domestic market. Average imported price for loins was just over $4/lb., while steaks were averaging about $5.30/lb.
Swordfish quality can vary greatly because swordfish boats will be at sea for different lengths of time, from a few days to nearly a month. Swordfish has a firm, meaty texture and is a good source of selenium, niacin, vitamin B12, and zinc. Bright white or pink swordfish meat with a bright red bloodline denotes freshness. Avoid swordfish meat that is gray and bloodlines that are brown because that indicates lower quality fish. Peak swordfish landings are August through October, which is also when the prices tend to be low. Swordfish caught by California gillnet boats in the fall tend to be high quality fish, according to some buyers. Frozen swordfish is available year-round.
Swordfish may be substituted for shark.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that women of child bearing age and children should not eat swordfish due to concerns over high levels of mercury.
Swordfish are large migratory predators found around the world that grow quickly during their first year of life and have few predators as adults, making them resilient to fishing pressure. North Atlantic swordfish were declared overfished in the late 1990s. In 1999, quotas there were reduced as part of a 10-year plan to help rebuild stocks. In 2013 the population was declared rebuilt at about 14% above its target level, according to NOAA’s FishWatch.
Seafood Watch reports that swordfish populations in the Pacific Ocean appear to be healthy, and overfishing is not occurring there, but FishWatch warned that stock assessments results have been conflicting. In the Indian Ocean southwest region swordfish are below levels needed to produce the maximum sustainable yield, according to a 2014 Seafood Watch Report. Mediterranean swordfish populations have been declining and Seafood Watch considers the most likely scenario from the last assessment is that the population is overfished and slight overfishing is occurring there.
Most swordfish worldwide are caught using longlines, which doesn’t come in contact with the seafloor so it has few impacts on the ocean habitat. Swordfish are also caught with rod and reel, harpoon, handlines, and buoy gear that also have minimal effects.
Longline gear used to catch swordfish can result in high levels of bycatch, including sharks, sea birds, juvenile swordfish, and endangered marine turtles. Shortfin mako sharks, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature categorizes as a vulnerable species, are caught incidentally in the Atlantic swordfish fishery.
To reduce bycatch risks, fishermen in the U.S. Atlantic are required to use circle hooks and longliners in Hawaii operate under strict regulations to protect sea turtles. Rod and reel, harpoon, handlines, and buoy gear also used for catching swordfish result in less bycatch. Despite a 2002 European ban on driftnet gear, some swordfish in the Mediterranean continue to be caught with them.
Given the global distribution of swordfish, multiple groups are responsible for managing the fisheries. The National Marine Fisheries Service and Fisheries and Oceans Canada manage swordfish for the U.S. and Canada in the North Atlantic. Strict management measures there are helping to reduce bycatch and bycatch mortality, according to the FishWatch.
Indian Ocean swordfish fisheries are managed by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. Overall Seafood Watch gave management there a red recommendation because of compliance issues with IUU fishing, data reporting to the Commission from individual countries, lack of measures to improve monitoring and no total allowable catch in place.
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council manages swordfish in Hawaiian waters. Management, which includes scientific research and monitoring, catch limits and permit number limits, is considered effective.
The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission manage swordfish in the Pacific. Measures include annual catch limits, vessel number limits, scientific monitoring, and gear limits. Management in the Western and Central Pacific is considered moderately effective. While the IATTC adopted bycatch management measures in the Eastern Pacific, Seafood Watch reported that many don’t meet best practice requirements and that scientific advice is not always followed when setting measures.
After a tumultuous 2012, which saw the price of frozen mahi fillets sink from almost $5.50 to about $3.25/lb., the market for mahi has remained remarkably stable since. U.S. imports of frozen mahi fillets this year through April have increased 22% to just under 10,000 metric tons. Most of that increase can be attributed to a surge in imports of sea frozen mahi from Taiwan, which tripled to about 1,500 metric tons. Supplies of frozen mahi fillets from Peru and Ecuador, the two main suppliers of mahi to the U.S., were basically flat at 3,800 and 3,000 metric tons respectively.
In spite of the jump in supply, frozen mahi fillet prices have actually increased slightly due to strong demand and reasonable pricing. Since the peak of the fishing season this January off Peru and Ecuador the price of IQF 5-7 lb. skin-on, fillets has jumped from about $3/lb. to $3.40/lb. Look for frozen fillet price to strengthen a bit more through the summer as demand picks up and inventories decline.
Fresh mahi imports through April have been flat at just under 3,000 metric tons. While imports from Ecuador, the leading supplier of fresh mahi to the U.S., are off 25% to about 1,500 metric tons, imports from Costa Rica (550 metric tons) and Guatemala (350 metric tons) are up sharply. Miami prices for fresh whole mahi, which started the year at just under $3/lb., have risen to $4-$6/lb. this spring as fishing has slowed down.
Closer to home, prices of fresh mahi mahi from Hawaii, won’t be so “strong strong” (the Hawaiian translation of mahi mahi) as fishing picks up in the summer and landings peak in the Aloha state.
Fresh and frozen mahi-mahi is available year-round, although prices fluctuate dramatically. Fresh mahi-mahi is sold as skin-on fillets as well as H&G, while frozen fish is available as skin-on or skinless boneless fillets. The fish is low in saturated fat and a good source of vitamins B12 and B6, phosphorus, potassium, niacin, and selenium. When buying fresh mahi, for maximum shelf life, buying H&G mahi-mahi is the best product form. Look for bright skin colors and firm, pinkish meat to identify the highest quality of skin-on mahi fillets. Mahi-mahi has a mild sweet taste, making it popular in American restaurants. It is most abundant in January and February, when the catches off Ecuador and Peru are at their peak. Ecuador, Peru and Taiwan are the leading suppliers of mahi-mahi to the U.S. market.
Mahi-mahi may be substituted for snapper, grouper, and sea bass.
The FDA advises children (ages 0-6) limit consumption to 3 meals/month and children (6-12) limit consumption to 4 meals/month due to mercury concerns.
Mahi mahi, found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters, are prolific spawners and have extremely rapid growth, which helps them remain fairly resilient to fishing pressure. However, since mahi mahi in the Atlantic are drawn to a floating brown alga that hides food, they often accidentally eat all kinds of garbage tangled in the alga. Currently mahi mahi in the Atlantic are not being overfished although the population status in the Pacific is unknown, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
In Hawaii, mahi mahi are caught using various hook and line gear, including trolls, which have minimal environmental impact on the seafloor. Surface longline gear and purse seines used in the fishery also avoid seafloor damage.
Purse seines that catch mahi mahi while targeting tuna can also catch sharks and juvenile tuna. According to the Blue Ocean Institute, the longlines used to catch mahi mahi have high shark bycatch rates and efforts have not been undertaken yet to reduce them. Bycatch from longlines also includes sea turtles, marine mammals, and sea birds. The largest mahi mahi fishery is near Ecuador, where fishermen use handlines that have minimal bycatch.
Management plans have been adopted in Ecuador but there are none yet in Costa Rica, Guatemala or Peru. All of these countries’ mahi mahi fisheries are engaged in Fishery Improvement Projects, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Mahi mahi in the U.S. Atlantic is managed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which has size limits set on the fish in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Fishery managers in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico removed mahi mahi from the region’s fishery management plan although they can still collect catch data. In the Pacific, general management measures apply to the fisheries that target the fish. Overall there is a lack of comprehensive stock assessment data for mahi mahi and no plans currently exist to scientifically monitor or research the stock in the future.
This November the Mid Atlantic Fisheries Management Council announced the golden tilefish fishery off the mid Atlantic is fully rebuilt. The quotas for the IFQ fishery off the mid Atlantic states will be about 900 metric tons for the next three years. Last year, the total tilefish catch, which included non-IFQ fisheries off the East Coast was almost 1,500 metric tons. After steadily rising the past few years, the average ex-vessel price for tilefish has settled at just under $3/lb., a price level that has created a steady balance between supply and demand. Restaurants, where most tilefish is sold, have been paying about $5/lb. for whole fish. Subject to weather, tilefish are landed year round, although landings are heaviest in the late spring.
Golden tilefish is low in fat and has a delicate, sweet flavor similar to lobster or crab. Tilefish is primarily sold fresh whole, though it is also sold fresh in fillets and steaks, and frozen skin-on, bone-in fillets, and steaks. Raw tilefish flesh is light and pinkish but cooks to be flaky and white. Although smaller tilefish are more affordable than larger ones, buyers caution that they also have softer flesh and shorter shelf-life.
Golden tilefish may be substituted for grouper.
Due to elevated mercury levels EDF recommends: kids under 12 should not eat; women should not eat; and men should limit to 1 meals/month.
Tilefish (aka "Clown of the Sea") are a long-lived and slow growing deep-water fish. Golden tilefish tend to be larger and live longer than other tilefish. Factors that include a narrow geographical range and susceptibility to physical changes in the environment make golden tilefish vulnerable to fishing pressure.
Golden tilefish are found primarily in the Mid-Atlantic as well as in the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. The South Atlantic stocks are above target population levels, and the stock in the Gulf of Mexico is considered stable. In 1998, Mid-Atlantic golden tilefish were declared overfished but have since shown signs of recovery. A 2011 assessment indicated that the Mid-Atlantic population was 4% above the target, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported scientific concern about uncertainty with the assessment model.
Small longline fisheries in Mid-Atlantic and Southern New England mainly catch golden tilefish, although some are also caught using otter trawls. Bottom longlines can do moderate damage to the seafloor when they come in contact with it, but that gear tends to be restricted to deeper waters in South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Several silty, clay habitats where golden tilefish are typically found have become protected from fishing, according to the Blue Ocean Institute.
Since golden tilefish tend to be targeted selectively by longline fishermen, there is low bycatch as a result. Bycatch can include deep-water snapper and grouper. Although golden tilefish can become bycatch in the Mid-Atlantic trawl fishery, the Blue Ocean Institute reported that those numbers are thought to be low.
NOAA Fisheries is responsible for managing golden tilefish in the Mid-Atlantic, the South Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing management plans in these areas include annual catch limits, individual quotas, required permits, landing report requirements, restrictions on gear and depth, as well as protected areas. Despite strong management measures, sustainability goals have yet to be fully met.
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