New Year, New Species


Steven Hedlund

Published on
February 14, 2008

It's hard to believe, but the International Boston Seafood Show is just over a week away. Each year, new species are introduced to the U.S. market at the show, rousing the curiosity of seafood buyers hunting for the next big thing. In 2006 and 2007, Kona kampachi and barramundi generated a lot of buzz in Bean Town. This year, it may be a little known crab from Down Under that steals the show.

At my first show in 2000, tilapia was the talk of the town. At the time, St. Peter's fish was nowhere to be found on the top 10 U.S. per capita seafood consumption list. Now tilapia is a household name ��" the fish is the fifth most consumed species, trailing only shrimp, canned tuna, salmon and pollock. The U.S. market craved a mild, sweet, consistently priced whitefish to supplement pollock, cod and other wild whitefish, supplies of which have leveled off ��" and farmed tilapia fit the bill.

Cracking the top 10 consumption list isn't in the cards for spanner crab (Ranina ranina), which will be on display in Boston for the first time this year.

The target market is upscale dining, says Bob Fram, president of Garden & Valley Isle Seafood. His Honolulu company is distributing spanner crab processed by Ceas Crabpak, which was instrumental in developing the fishery off Queensland, in northeastern Australia. The firm produces more than 800 metric tons of the crab annually, more than half of the country's entire spanner crab catch. Charlie Trotter's in Chicago is among the high-end restaurants that menu spanner crab.

The species is sustainably harvested, according to Ceas Crabpak and the Australian government (the deepwater crab is trapped individually using nets called dillies). That's perhaps the crab's biggest selling point, as a growing number of seafood buyers are factoring ocean conservation into their purchasing criteria. Plus, the meat is unique because it's "extremely" light and sweet, more so than any other crab, says Fram.

Spanner crab is pricey, running $8.95 to $10.95 a pound, f.o.b. Los Angeles, which may keep demand in check. However, as with many of the new species introduced at the show in recent years, the aim is to carve a niche in the U.S. market, not dominate it. With that in mind, spanner crab has a lot of potential.

Best regards,
Steven Hedlund
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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