As sushi buyers come back, Gulf of Mexico yellowfin producers foresee a good season ahead
A series of strong storms roiling the Gulf of Mexico this winter and early spring – coupled with a slow reopening from COVID-19-related restrictions – has dampened yellowfin tuna production in the Southeast U.S., with boat prices hovering at about the same levels as this time last year.
David Maginnis, who runs Jensen Tuna in Houma, Louisiana – the gulf’s largest yellowfin producer – said boat prices for the premium quality No. 1 tuna average USD 6.50 (EUR 5.43) per pound, while the No. 2 fish are about USD 3.50 (EUR 2.87). According to the latest landings data provided by NMFS, fishermen have harvested 30.7 metric tons (67,584 pounds) between 1 January and 28 February — way down from the same period in 2020 when 76.7 metric tons (169,137 pounds) were harvested.
“Lately, in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s been rough, rough, rough,” Maginnis said. “We’ve been fighting a lot of bad weather. Does that equate to higher boat prices? No.”
Maginnis, whose fish house runs 18 tuna boats and supplies customers all over the United States, said the restaurant industry is the main driver of his higher-grade product, especially the white-tablecloth and sushi establishments.
“The No. 1 (grade tuna) is very affected because you don’t have the sushi bars opening up,” he said.
Another COVID-related wrinkle is the increased cost of shipping and handling – air freight, trucking, fuel, packaging – “that contribute to lower boat prices,” Maginnis said.
“This fish is worth only what the market says,” he added.
But Maginnis believes production will pick up this spring when, hopefully, the weather calms down and more restaurants reopen to full capacity with widespread COVID vaccinations.
“I think we have a good stock of fish in the gulf,” he said. “I just think we need to get on ’em. The harvest hasn’t been consistent. When the weather is good, it’s good. We’re going to have a good production year. It might be one of our better years coming up.”
Reporting by Sue Cocking
Photo courtesy of Taro Taylor via Flickr