GSMC panels: Oysters on top, lobster slips

Good news about oysters and squid, bad news about scallops and lobsters and a wait-and-see approach to mackerel highlighted two major panel discussions Wednesday at the National Fisheries Institute's Global Seafood Marketing Conference held in Miami this week.

In the high-value shellfish panel on Wednesday morning, speakers noted a significant trending drop in U.S. scallop landings in recent years, including estimates for 2014, where the experts predicted the downward trend would continue.

"I think our lowest year will be next year (2014)," said Dan Cohen, managing director of Atlantic Capes Fisheries.

Cohen noted that imports went up in 2013, but that may not be enough to offset the drop, meaning prices are likely to rise.

For lobster, the panel noted landings fell in the fall of 2013 for the first time in five years, and like many other species covered at the conference, increased consumption in China remains a factor.

"The China story continues to drive demand," said Andrew Kaelin, managing director of AIS Aqua Foods, who chaired the panel.

Prices for lobster were volatile in 2013, and the panel agreed that with expected increases in demand and stable or dropping supply, the era of low-priced lobster is likely coming to an end.

Oysters, however, continue to do well, with a surprisingly stable market, according to Chris Callahan, VP of Ipswich Shellfish Co.

"We've got a category that's growing with a supply that's growing," he said.

Callahan said the industry is growing exponentially, with American oyster farmers dropping billions of new animals into the water — "That's billions, with a 'B,'" he said.

With that much of a glut on supply, Callahan said, one might think that prices would plummet, but there is a huge demand that continues to keep pace with supply. As an example, Callahan noted a number of new oyster bars in Boston that opened in the past few months alone.

"We're seeing the number of oyster bars opening, it's staggering," he said. "Demand continues to match lock step with production."

In the global pelagics panel later in the day on Thursday, the speakers discussed the stability of the squid stocks and industry, with Ruth Levy of Stavis Seafoods noting, "It's one of those items you can bank on."

Mackerel and herring also took center stage, with Otto Gregussen, administrative director for Norges Sildesalgslag, the sales organization for Nordic pelagic fishermen, saying increasing tensions over mackerel quotas in the northern Atlantic have not affected the market yet.

"At the moment it is a little challenging, but still a very stable stock," he said.

He also said Atlantic, chub and blue mackerel remain stable, both in supply and demand, despite the so-called "Mackerel wars" that came to a head in 2013 when the European Commission levied sanctions against the Faroe Islands over what E.U. officials called excessive fishing of both herring and mackerel. Iceland is in the middle of negotiations with Norway and the E.U. to prevent similar sanctions against Icelandic mackerel and herring fishing.

Gregussen did not mention the sanctions during the session, but afterward he told SeafoodSource it was too soon to tell what if any impact the sanctions would have on the mackerel or herring markets, either in Europe or beyond.


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