U.S. sea scallop prices remain high
Challenges on the international front and high demand for domestic product has pushed sea scallop prices higher — and kept them there.
Prices, which most suppliers say have stayed steady at $10 to $11 a pound (depending upon size), are influenced by a number of factors, says Sean Moriarty, product manager for sea scallops at American Pride Seafoods in New Bedford, Mass.
Prices are up about 40 to 50 percent over historic levels, he says, in part because of a 10 percent reduction in days at sea. A weak dollar has created a strong export market, he adds, particularly in the European Union. And reductions in other fisheries have also contributed to higher scallop prices. When the tsunami hit Japan in March, it also started speculation about the impact that could have on the Hokkaido fishery, says Moriarty.
Meanwhile, says Joe Furtado, EVP for Eastern Fisheries in New Bedford, Mass., China has been dealing with an oil spill in the Bohai Bay region that has been blamed for killing off large numbers of scallops.
This year Eastern began scallop farming in China, and its first harvest will commence in November. The mortality rate that was originally forecast — about 47 percent — will actually be closer to 30 to 33 percent, says Furtado. “And we’re getting the benefit [of demand for Chinese product] even before it comes out of the water.”
The decision to begin farming in China is part of Eastern’s continued focus on vertical integration and its desire to give customers assurances about accountability and traceability of its product.
Taking all the factors that are challenging international supplies into account, Moriarty says, “This created strong demand for our domestic scallop, just as prices were beginning to ease with increased catches. Areas of the world that traditionally relied on Japanese product became interested in our domestic scallop,” he says.
The domestic sea scallop harvest for 2011 was expected to be around 50 million pounds of meat, says Moriarty, which “assures a healthy biomass of scallops and a sustainable fishery for the foreseeable future.”
The shift to domestic product was also noted by Bob Fitzsimmons, president of Trisome Foods in Stratham, N.H. “Through July, about 90 percent of our sea scallop purchases have been product of the United States,” he says, “where in years past we would rely on Japan, China and other countries for about 30 to 40 percent of our total sea scallop sales.”
Bay scallops are now coming from Peru instead of China, adds Fitzsimmons. “We are still buying product from China, but not as much due to the availability of the Peruvian product,” he says. The price for scallops from Peru is $1 per pound higher on popular sizes like 60/80s, 40/60s, 40/50s and 30/40s, but the quality is very good, he says.
Click here to read the rest of the feature on sea scallops, which appeared in the October issue of SeaFood Business magazine.