MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
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.
The big news in the oyster business is a continued surge in the production of both farmed and wild oysters from the Chesapeake Bay. Now that regulators in Maryland allow oyster farmers to lease lands, that state is starting to enjoy the same oyster renaissance as Virginia oyster farmers on the other side of the Bay. Harvests in Virginia jumped past 500,000 bushels in 2013, growing another 25 percent to reach the highest levels since the mid 1980s.
As more farms in Maryland come on line, harvests there could soon surpass Virginia’s. In 2013, Maryland watermen harvested 488,000 bushels, the best oyster harvest in 15 years. Furthermore, the population of wild oysters in Maryland has more than doubled since 2010 and recent population surveys indicate there are more oysters in the water since the state began population surveys in 1985.
While Bay oyster stocks are healthy, harvests are still a fraction of the 15 million bushels harvested out of the Bay in 1884. An indication of just how robust Chesapeake Bay oyster production is is the fact that Bay oysters are being trucked down to Louisiana for shucking, a dramatic reversal of the situation just a few years ago when Chesapeake shucking houses trucked oysters up from Louisiana to stay in business.
At the same time the Bay oyster industry is booming, oyster producers in Louisiana and Florida’s Apalachicola Bay are struggling. Production in Louisiana, historically the leading oyster producing state in the country, is off 70 percent since the triple whammy of Hurricane Katrina, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill and government efforts to increase freshwater runoff into the Gulf to flush chemical pollutants from the Mississippi waterway.
Meanwhile, oyster producers in the Pacific Northwest are increasing their production and taking advantage of surging demand and prices for oysters for the lucrative halfshell trade.
Oysters prices have increased steadily in recent years and distributors on the East Coast say prices for select oysters have risen above $12/lb.
A good supply of live half shell oysters and oyster meat is available year-round. Oysters should be bought live and smell like the sea, not sulfurous. Check for freshness by tapping on the shells to see whether they close. The meat from oysters grown off the bottom in farms tends to be higher, making it a good substitute for dredged oysters. Oysters can be kept up to two weeks after collection at 36–38F in a breathable container. Buyers should look for the origin and collection date on a live-oyster shipment, which are required by law. A variety of volume measures are used, so buyers recommend insisting on easily quantifiable units such as by the piece or by the pound. Usually Olympia oysters cost the most, followed by European, Kumamotos, Pacific, and Eastern.
Oysters from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico may carry Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, which is naturally ocurring, but the concentrations increase during summer months and can be harmful to humans with compromised immune systems. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) comes from eating oysters that are contamined with toxic algae, also known as "red tide" from the color associated with the algal blooms.
POLLUTION & HABITAT | MARINE RESOURCES | RISK TO WILD STOCKS | MANAGEMENT | ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS
Oysters filter water, cleaning it so in some places oyster farming improves the habitat, although this is not universal. Pacific oysters are the most widely cultivated in the world and they are usually raised on ropes, in trays, or on the ocean floor in coastal and near-shore areas.
Farmed oysters don’t require feed so there is no loss of wild fish, and they require little or no drugs or chemicals.
Oyster farming has little risk of escapees because they aren’t capable of movement as adults. While some cultured oysters could reproduce in the wild, shellfish producers have stricter management codes than the laws that apply to the industry. The introduction of non-native oyster species to some areas, there have been some negative interactions with wild stocks. Risk of disease transfer is considered moderate because isolating oyster diseases can be very challenging.
The regulations governing oyster farming in developed countries and some developing ones are strict and include best management practices. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, farming industry practices tend to be more stringent than the laws that apply to growing shellfish.
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).
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.
FISHERY IMPACTS ON STOCK | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Fishery Impacts on Stock
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.
This year’s commercial bluefish quota off the East Coast will again be about 4,000 metric tons. As is usual, North Carolina has the largest quota at 1,260 metric tons, followed by New Jersey (582 mt), Virginia (467 mt), New York (408 mt) and Massachusetts (231 mt).
Although the quota is the same, it is unlikely that fishermen will catch their full quota again this year. In 2102, the last year for which catch data is available, East Coast fishermen landed about 2,250 metric tons of bluefish, the smallest catch since 1967. Increasingly, fishermen have concluded fishing for blues just isn’t worth the effort.
Over the past 10 years, ex-vessel bluefish prices have dropped from about $2.80/lb. to just $1.54/lb. in 2012. Meanwhile, operating costs for boats have soared due primarily to higher fuel costs. So why are blues worth less and less?
At $2.80 to a boat, a restaurant would pay close to $10/lb. for a fish many Americans consider too dark and oily (think “fishy”). For about half that price, why not menu fresh tilapia – boneless, bland and white – instead? Even at an ex-vessel price of $1.50, bluefish fillets run about $6/lb. to a restaurant, so don’t look for slews of blues to hit the market in the near future.
Bluefish have a high oil content and are a good source of selenium, niacin, and vitamin B12, magnesium, and potassium. The flesh is fine-textured, fatty, and ranges from white to silver-gray. To determine quality, look for bluefish flesh that has a firm texture. The fish are sold fresh as whole fish and as skin-on fillets with the pinbone in as well as salted, dried, smoked, and as a pâté.
Bluefish can be substituted for other high oil content fish such as mackerel and farmed salmon. Pay close attention to quality, especially during peak landings in warm weather months, because bluefish are highly perishable and need to be cleaned quickly and iced. Bluefish has a short shelf life and doesn’t hold up well to freezing so some buyers recommend looking for it fresh.
Bluefish may be used as a substitute for farmed salmon.
Bluefish are migratory fish found worldwide in large pools. Although that makes them easier for fishermen to target, they grow and breed frequently. In the U.S. Atlantic, bluefish is a mixed fishery that targets other species. Although bluefish experienced overfishing in the past and reached lows in the 1990s, the fishery has been recovering and was declared rebuilt after a 2008 assessment. An assessment update from 2012 showed the bluefish stock in good condition, the Monterey Bay Aquarium reported.
The majority of bluefish landed are caught by recreational fishermen using rod and reel gear. Commercial fishermen mainly use gillnets in sandy, muddy areas of the Mid-Atlantic, where the impact on the seafloor is minimal. Some bluefish are commercially landed with bottom trawls, which can damage rocky ocean habitats but causes less disturbance in the softer sections where bluefish are caught in the Mid-Atlantic.
The majority of commercial fishermen in this fishery catch bluefish using gillnets, which can occasionally entangle marine animals such as dolphins and sea turtles. However, the risk is reduced for bluefish since small-mesh nets are usually employed and these nets have the lowest bycatch rates of the gillnet sizes. Vessels catching bluefish with summer flounder employ turtle excluder devices to reduce interactions. Overall, bycatch isn’t considered a significant problem in the bluefish fishery, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Atlantic bluefish fall under a fishery management plan from 1990. Measures for commercial bluefish fishermen include quotas, minimum fish sizes, minimum mesh restrictions for gear, and permit requirements. Good management has been credited with helping bluefish stocks recover. Landings are monitored weekly. The Monterey Bay Aquarium reported that, after a slight decline, fishery managers decreased the annual catch limits in the commercial bluefish fishery for 2013 until the 2014 assessment.
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.
SPECIES VULNERABILITY | ABUNDANCE | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
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.
This year’s U.S. quota for Atlantic herring of 104,000 metric tons is almost identical to last year’s haul of 103,000 metric tons. By the end of October, U.S. fishermen had caught about 80% of the quota. There was considerable griping when the inshore herring fishery opened at the end of October. There was a big bluefin bite on Jeffrey’s Ledge, a long, relatively shallow ledge that winds from northern Massachusetts to Portland Maine, where the big fish were inhaling shoals of herring. When the big herring trawlers were allowed to start fishing their inshore quota, they were met with howls of protest by the large numbers of small tuna boats who were still enjoying their best season in decades.
U.S. exports of Atlantic herring have been up a bit this year. Through August, U.S. processors exported about 20,000 metric tons of Atlantic herring. Canada, which has traditionally been the largest U.S. export market (Canadian processors buy it both for smoking and canning), has been overtaken by Turkey which tripled its Atlantic herring imports to 4,400 metric tons, compared to about 3,000 metric tons for Canada. U.S exporters were averaging about $1,000 metric tons FOB East Coast for their fish.
Fresh herring have a short shelf life, around five days from capture, and should be sold immediately after purchasing. Atlantic herring has a high oil content and a soft, fine texture when cooked fresh. It is also sold cured with smoke, salt, or other spices. Herring are highly perishable so most are sold canned and frozen as whole fish, and as skin-on, bone-in fillet. Some fresh Atlantic herring are sold in wholesale markets in large metropolitan areas on the East Coast. Atlantic herring are caught mostly between May and October off the U.S. and Canada but canned and frozen herring are available year-round.
Atlantic herring tend to return to natal spawning grounds, making them susceptible to fishing pressure. However, females have an average fecundity for fin-fish, which helps with resiliency. Herring’s high fat content makes it an important food source for marine mammals, birds, and a number of fish.
Overfishing and exploitation in the 1960s caused the Atlantic herring fishery to collapse in the 1970s. Since the 1990s, the stocks have been recovering and current harvest rates are considered sustainable, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.
Atlantic herring are primarily caught by mid-water trawlers and purse seines, as well as fixed traps called weirs. These fishing methods cause minimal damage to marine habitats because they don’t usually have contact with the seafloor, according to the Blue Ocean Institute and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.
The Blue Ocean Institute reports that bycatch in the Atlantic Herring fishery is low, consisting mostly of herring that’s undersized, spawning, or caught after the vessel has filled to capacity. Other bycatch include spiny dogfish, redfish, mackerel, haddock, pollock, and cod. Documented bycatch of mammals in the Atlantic herring fishery has occurred, but for a long time it was difficult to determine the extent of the fishery’s impacts on sea mammals, reports the Blue Ocean Institute. Observer coverage was increased as a result.
Since 2005, population assessments and analysis have been conducted to evaluate the effects of management actions. In 2006, fishery managers became concerned about an increase in fishing pressure on Atlantic herring, especially in the Gulf of Maine inshore area, and proactively proposed a limited access program for all herring management areas, according to the Blue Ocean Institute.
A surge in imports of fresh yellowfin from the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Suriname and Thailand offset declines in supply from Vietnam, Costa Rica and Panama the first two months of the year, as U.S. imports of fresh yellowfin jumped 25% to 2,650 metric tons. The increased supply helped push the average imported price for H&G yellowfin down a bit from $4.71/lb. over the same period last year to $4.46/lb. this year.
Last year, the U.S. imported 18,650 metric tons of fresh yellowfin, up 4% from 2012. As usual, the exporting countries were diverse, with eight countries supplying more than 1,000 metric tons. The Philippines was the leading exporter with exports of 1,710 metric tons, followed by Trinidad & Tobago (1,643 mt), Panama, (1,300 mt), Sri Lanka (1,266 mt), the Maldives (1,236 mt), Vietnam (1,149 mt), Costa Rica (1,064 mt), and Mexico (1,006 mt).
Closer to home, Hawaii’s tuna longline fleet was landing on average about 60,000 pounds of fish a day to the Honolulu Fish Auction. Auction prices were running about $5-$7/lb. for whole fish this spring. Look for higher volumes this summer when landings pick up and prices should ease. Last year, the Hawaiian fleet, which mainly targets bigeye, landed about 1,600 metric tons of yellowfin.
On the frozen side, the market for CO-treated yellowfin steaks and loins has settled down after the huge price run-up in 2012, which saw the price of steaks and loins to distributors hit $8.50/lb. That was followed by a steady price decline last year, which saw the price drop steadily most of the year before stabilizing at about $5/lb., a level that moves product steadily through the distribution chain. Imports of treated yellowfin last year from Indonesia were up 13% to 7,800 metric tons, while imports from the Philippines dropped 29% to 2,981 metric tons and imports from Vietnam jumped 38% to 3,009 metric tons.
Prices of treated steaks and loins could strengthnen this summer, when demand from retailers increases sharply for the "grilling season." Treated imports from the three main exporters were all down for the first two months of the year, increasing pressure on pricing. But don't expect a run-up like 2012, as too many importers suffered painful losses when prices collapsed in 2013.
Yellowfin tuna is available fresh, frozen, and canned. Canned yellowfin tuna is marketd as "light" tuna and is slightly darker than albacore. While yellowfin tuna quality is difficult to determine due to subjective criteria, number 2 quality is usually adequate for the U.S. market while Number 1 quality is primarily exported to Japan. Fresh and frozen yellowfin is sold to foodservice operators as loins and steaks. Early fall is a good time to buy fresh yellowfin tuna, as demand drops and landings are normally still quite good.
Frozen yellowfin is commonly treated with carbon monoxide or tasteless smoke to prevent the red color of the fish from going brown. If abused, carbon monoxide can be used to enhance the color of lower grade yellowfin. However, fresh yellowfin loins and steaks are rarely treated with carbon monoxide to maintain color. Additionally, the quality of pole and handline-caught yellowfin can suffer because the fish can "burn" themselves when they struggle as they are landed and will result in the fish having a very short shelf life.
Yellowfin tuna may be used as a substitute for shark and bluefin tuna.
The U.S. FDA makes these recommendations:
Yellowfin tuna is widely distributed throughout tropical and subtropical oceans. They are highly fecund with a moderate lifespan, making them fairly resistant to fishing pressure. A Seafood Watch report from 2014 stated that there is uncertainty about yellowfin tuna populations in the Atlantic as well as some indication that they are overfished and unsustainably fished. Seafood Watch also reported that yellowfin tuna are overfished in the eastern Pacific Ocean but healthy in the western and central Pacific. In the Indian Ocean, yellowfin populations are healthy and fishing mortality rates are low.
Yellowfin tuna are caught in fisheries that target other tuna species. Slightly more than half of all tuna landed worldwide, including yellowfin, is caught with purse seines that have minimal impacts on ocean habitats. However, anchored fish aggregating devices (FADs) could result in contact. The pelagic longlines, trolls and poles used to catch yellowfin tuna also present a low risk to the seabed and bottom habitats, according to Seafood Watch.
With the exception of the troll, pole and handline fisheries, bycatch in yellowfin fisheries is high. Unintended catch includes threatened and endangered marine mammals. Dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, other tuna, marlin, manta rays, wahoo, stingrays and juvenile tunas are among the bycatch, which is increased with the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs). Longline tuna vessels in the Atlantic are required to collect and report bycatch and discard information. They must have equipment for the safe handling, disentanglement and release of sea turtles, and the captain must be trained on correct techniques.
Starting in 2013, countries in the Atlantic that have not reported shortfin mako shark catch data are prohibited from catching them, according to a 2014 Seafood Watch report. Although fishermen back down purse seine nets for dolphins to escape in the eastern Pacific, the animals can still die from net canopy collapses and stress. The deaths are declining but dolphin populations haven’t yet recovered.
Yellowfin are managed by several fishery management organizations worldwide. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) manages them in the Atlantic. ICCAT’s tuna conservation and management program was amended in 2011 to include yellowfin but recovery plans have not been in place long enough to judge their success. Seafood Watch rated the Commission’s bycatch strategy “ineffective” because it doesn’t meet best practices. In addition, there are no bycatch cap or catch limits.
Yellowfin tuna are managed in the U.S. and Canadian longline fisheries by the National Marine Fisheries Service and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. While Seafood Watch rated most of the management strategies as moderately effective, the bycatch strategy was called ineffective in the Canadian North Atlantic longline fishery because it does not require best practices for reducing incidental shark capture. Observer coverage was also lacking.
In the Pacific, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC) and the state of Hawaii all manage tuna. Management measures in the western and central Pacific Ocean longline fishery, including ones mitigating bycatch, were rated moderately to highly effective in a 2014 Seafood Watch report. However, management in the eastern Pacific longline fishery did not meet best practice requirements and scientific advice was not always followed, according to a separate report.
Seafood Watch rated the management in the western, central and north Pacific yellowfin purse seine fishery between ineffective and moderately effective. The WCPFC lacks limits on the number of FAD sets allowed annually.
The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences manage tuna in those regions. The management was given a red score by Seafood Watch due to a lack of measures to improve monitoring, a lack of total allowable catch, lack of bycatch data as well as poor bycatch mitigation. Seafood Watch also pointed to IUU fishing issues in the Indian Ocean.
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