By Joanne Friedrick, SeaFood Business contributing editor
Published on 18 March, 2012
Prized by sport fishermen, sushi houses and restaurateurs alike, yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) hales from warm, equatorial waters. But yellowfin suppliers note that the stocks have been tighter than in the past and prices higher as a result of its favored status.
“I’ve never seen [supply] as tight as it is now,” says Tim Lycke, owner of Incredible Fish in Miami. While supplies typically dry up between Christmas and New Year’s when the fleet is in, Lycke says the lack of fish has extended beyond the holidays.
Competition from Japan is one of the issues, he says, in part because fishermen there are still recovering from last year’s tsunami. In turn, he says, the Japanese are buying from Vietnam, Thailand and Fiji, and are competing with U.S. companies for fish.
Through November 2011, the United States imported nearly 40 million pounds of yellowfin, with Vietnam leading the list of supplier countries at 6.77 million pounds, followed by Trinidad and Tobago at 4.72 million pounds and Indonesia at 4.42 million pounds. Other key suppliers included Suriname, the Philippines and Panama.
Within the United States, Hawaii leads the list of states landing yellowfin, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service. In 2010, Hawaii landed 2.4 million pounds, which accounted for more than half of the entire 4.5-million-pound U.S. total. Other key harvest states were Florida, which accounted for about 483,000 pounds, New Jersey at approximately 447,000 pounds and Louisiana with approximately 440,000 pounds.
One supply issue is that yellowfin doesn’t have a true substitute. “It’s a staple in sushi bars and white tablecloth restaurants,” says Rex Ito, president of Prime Time Seafood in Los Angeles, “but unfortunately it’s pricey right now.”