MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
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.
SPECIES VULNERABILITY | ABUNDANCE | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
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.
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:
FISHERY IMPACTS ON STOCK | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Fishery Impacts on Stock
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.
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.
fresh & frozen products
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.
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.
Although stocks and quotas in the North Atlantic are at all-time highs, the mackerel business is still muddled. After years of setting and fishing their own quota, this March the Faroese finally agreed to fish a joint quota with EU and Norway for the next five years. Iceland and Greenland, on the other hand, are still setting their own quotas for a fishery where stocks are increasingly prevalent in their own waters. Both of these countries still refuse to a joint management regime for the largest pelagic stock in the North Atlantic. Iceland responded to the new agreement by saying that EU, Norway and the Faroese take full responsibility for overfishing.
However, since this year’s quota set by the EU, Norway and the Faeroes will be a record 1.2 million metric tons and the stock biomass is more than 8 million metric tons, overfishing does not seem to be a problem. What is a big problem, though, is the Russian ban on seafood imports from the EU and Norway that was suddenly implemented this August before the fishery off Norway and Scotland had barely begun. That means that one of the biggest mackerel markets in the world is off limits to the two biggest producers. The loss of the Russian market makes it highly likely the entire quota won’t be caught this year. As a result, both Norway and Scotland want their unused 2014 quota rolled into 2015.
As fishing off Norway got underway in late August, the market was more than a little confused. That the Faroese can still export to Russia may take some pressure off other markets. Since mackerel prices plummeted two years ago, there has been some recovery, especially in Japan where freezers are empty. Although export prices are still being negotiated, Norwegian ex-vessel prices are 25% higher than last season. Early quotes from Norwegian producers are about $1,700/metric ton delivered to Asian ports.
With so much mackerel being landed in the eastern North Atlantic, U.S. fishermen are finding it hard to make money off mackerel. This year, U.S. boats will probably only catch about 4,500 metric tons, less than 15% of their quota.
Although it’s available year-round, some buyers recommend buying Atlantic mackerel in the fall from the trap fisheries off New England because this fish has high oil content after a summer of feeding. Atlantic mackerel is sold fresh, frozen, smoked or salted whole, in fillets, headed and gutted, and as steaks. This fish's flesh is firm, has a high oil content, and a strong savory taste. Mackerel are an excellent substitution for other fish with high oil content such as salmon, tuna, or bluefish, and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. Like tuna, mackerel must be handled properly because lack of ice or refrigeration can lead to a higher risk of scromboid poisoning.
Atlantic mackerel may be used as a substitute for Atlantic salmon and tuna.
Atlantic mackerel is a fast-growing fish that’s also highly migratory, helping it withstand fishing pressure.
The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service reports that Atlantic mackerel are at 257% above the target level. However, the Blue Ocean Institute reports that while they’re not being overfished, Atlantic mackerel in Europe are being harvested outside of safe biological limits.
Most Atlantic mackerel is caught between Maine and New Jersey using purse seines or trawl nets, according to the New England Aquarium. Purse seines allow for a targeted catch because fishermen can easily locate and identify the fish they’re seeking. Pelagic and mid-water trawl nets are less impactful on the marine environment than bottom trawl nets, significantly reducing habitat destruction, according to the NEA.
The extent of marine mammal bycatch in the Atlantic mackerel fishery is unclear. The Seafood Choices Alliance says that bycatch from purse seining and trawling has not been a major issue. The National Marine Fisheries Service notes that while the Atlantic mackerel fishery has minimal interaction with sea turtles, interactions with other marine mammals have been recorded. The Blue Ocean Institute reports that mortalities and injuries of marine mammals in the Atlantic mackerel fishery exceeded 50% of the potential biological removal of the species. Observers reported dolphin mortalities in the fishery between 1977 and 1991, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium cautions that observer coverage in the fishery is low. Mammal bycatch has been declining, in part due to a shift away from bottom otter trawls, but remains a moderate concern, according to a Monterey Bay Aquarium report from 2011. Atlantic mackerel’s midwater trawl fisheries catch nontargeted fish such as river herring, dogfish, and shortfin squid, but the Blue Ocean Institute says the level of this bycatch is small and causes little concern.
Atlantic mackerel stocks in the U.S. collapsed in the late 1970s due to overfishing that began occurring in the late 1960s, but effective management helped them recover to abundant, very healthy levels. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council currently does not have a bycatch management plan for the Atlantic mackerel fishery but is working on one.
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