US surimi production improving as bottlenecks ease

Published on
October 15, 2021
Production of surimi in the United States has increased as bottlenecks choking the supply chain have eased.

Production of surimi in the United States has increased as bottlenecks choking the supply chain have eased.

The U.S. pollock sector, which primarily sources product from Alaskan waters, has seen improvements in delivery, processing, shipping, and distribution through 2021. Through 21 August, 2021, U.S. surimi production added up to 152,087 metric tons (MT), up from 124,031 MT over the same period last year. In Q2 2021, production doubled year-over-year from 14,912 MT in Q2 2020 to 32,804 MT.

However, like many other industries in the United States, a labor shortage continues to hobble the industry. Thus far in the third quarter of 2021, latent labor shortages are lingering. That, increasing competition from foreign surimi, and consumer demand for other pollock products will determine production in the coming year, according to Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers CEO Craig Morris.

“With surimi block production being less intensive from a labor perspective and younger age-class fish working well into surimi block production – and having this strong global demand for surimi block – it makes the decision to shift to surimi block production very logical,” he said.

Japan remains the top export market for U.S. produced surimi. Most recent historical information suggests that Japan takes around 37 percent of Alaska’s surimi, with South Korea coming in close behind at around 33 percent.

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic escalated through the second quarter of 2020, exports to Japan fell from the 49,369 MT recorded in 2019 to 38,821 MT. That total has since recovered slightly to 39,791 MT in the second quarter of 2021.

As for the health of the surimi market in the year ahead, multiple factors come into play, Morris said.

“Looking back at 2020 versus 2019, we know that frozen seafood and especially products made from wild Alaska pollock PBO and deep-skinned fillet blocks enjoyed strong demand as COVID-19-related purchasing funneled consumers into the frozen food aisles of grocery stores as well as the drive-throughs of quick-service restaurants,” Morris said. “So, all things equal and assuming that the fish age-class move back more towards historic levels – and labor issues are addressed – I would be surprised if we didn’t see a shift by the industry to more PBO fillet block production in the next year."

Reporting by Charlie Ess

Photo courtesy of National Marine Fisheries Service

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