Spillover at the seafood counter

Salvatore Anastasi , owner of the Ninth Street Market purveyor, holds extra jumbo shrimp from Ecuador, selling for $15.95 a pound. He says his shrimp sales have plunged from about 500 pounds to 150 pounds per week and the wholesale price has jumped $2 a pound. At right, clams and oysters on ice. The price of most Anastasi seafood is up about 25 percent.
Salvatore Anastasi , owner of the Ninth Street Market purveyor, holds extra jumbo shrimp from Ecuador, selling for $15.95 a pound. He says his shrimp sales have plunged from about 500 pounds to 150 pounds per week and the wholesale price has jumped $2 a pound. At right, clams and oysters on ice. The price of most Anastasi seafood is up about 25 percent.
Posted: July 22, 2010

As seafood prices - and consumer fears - continue to rise in the wake of April's offshore drill-rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, some area wholesalers and retailers are casting a wider net for suppliers, and trying to reassure consumers that their fish is safe to eat.

Dick Coyne of Anastasi's in the Ninth Street Market said prices are up on almost all seafood about 25 percent now and will likely go higher.

"The sky's the limit next year as far as prices are concerned," Coyne said. He predicts crabmeat will become the new caviar.

Only a fraction of the shrimp we eat is from the gulf and 83 percent of all seafood Americans consume is imported, according to Gavin Gibbons of the nonprofit National Fisheries Institute. Oysters are of particular concern, though, Gibbons said, because 70 percent of those consumed domestically used to come from the gulf.

Don Takash of the wholesaler Sally's Seafood in Waretown, N.J., says he's already paying more. Shrimp from Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand rose from $8.50 a pound in May to $9.35, he said, probably because exporters there are taking advantage of any opportunity to charge whatever the market will bear.

The cost of oysters is also up everywhere. Delaware Bay oysters that sold for $32 a pound in May, he said, are now going for $42.

"Price cycles are not unusual," Takash said, "but it happened pretty quickly this time."

Even fish from the Barnegat Bay fleet are either selling for more or being shipped elsewhere.

Mike Garofalo, who owns Harvey Cedars Shellfish, a perennially popular spot on Long Beach Island, buys swordfish, shark, tuna, and scallops caught out of Barnegat, and those prices are up. But Garofalo has long relied on Brazil for his shrimp; that cost is up.

And for his Clam Bar in Beach Haven, Garofalo is buying oysters from Long Island Sound in New York, "just to be safe." (And that cost is up, too.)

The season for soft-shell crabs is just ending, but Garofalo says he paid $5 a pound more for soft shells from Maryland this year, in part because Maryland crabbers were shipping their supply south.

"There's always a fluctuation in price and availability in any normal summer," said Garofalo. "But this is different."

Some recent price increases are not related to the gulf spill. The wholesale price of scallops from Barnegat Bay, for example, went from $8.25 a pound in May to a current $10.25 per pound, Takash said, because of a new quota system on how much can be caught.

Still, he says, "everything boils down to supply and demand."

As one of the largest crab retailers in the tri-state area, Anastasi's always sells bushels on the July Fourth weekend.

"Last year, 60 percent were from Louisiana," Coyne said. "This year, none were from Louisiana. They were all from New Jersey and North Carolina.

"The spill has definitely affected us, and it won't be short-term," Coyne said.

Perception of the problem keeps consumers at bay, says Jay Silver of the Dreshertown Shop N Bag, a popular source for fish in the suburbs.

"The public perception is that everything is bad," Silver said. "But in reality, a very small portion of what we sell comes from the gulf."

At DiNardo's Famous Seafood on Race Street in Old City, owner Liz Massimo says customers hesitated to order hardshell crabs right after the spill. Safety, not price, was their concern.

"We have had a lot of customers come in and say they're afraid to order crabs," Massimo said. "So we posted information on FDA inspections. Once people understand the level of inspecting, I think, they feel more secure."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, along with state regulatory agencies, did intensify seafood inspections. And fishing for shrimp and oysters has been curtailed.

The FDA says no fresh fish from contaminated areas is on the market now, and it is posting alerts as needed at www.fda.gov/food/ucm210970.htm

The University of Minnesota's Food Industry Center has been polling consumer confidence weekly. In last week's survey 44 percent of consumers said they would eat only seafood they knew did not come from the gulf and an additional 31 percent said they would eat less seafood regardless of its source.


Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or dmarder@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|