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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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