Friday, May 30, 2014

Shrimp Issues Present Big Prices

Though the shrimp season has started in some states, the forecast for this season is not looking great.  The Texas Gulf season has historically opened in June but that date has been pushed back to July 15th and there is speculation that it will be pushed further back to the end of July.  The reasoning is the same as last year: pushing the dates back will allow shrimp to grow so that larger sizes may be harvested.  Right now shrimp prices are 25% higher than years past and, with a slow season projected for 2014, prices do not seem to be going in a favorable direction.

The foreign market is slowly coming on after months of silence as disease had devastated farmed stocks, but the lackluster rebounding performance of these imports has done nothing to soften prices of domestic shrimp.  If anything, the demand for domestic wild shrimp has increased due to fears of foreign markets' rampant disease and less than savory farming practices.  All I can say is that we are paying more than I have ever seen for wild domestic shrimp and, really, for all types of high quality shrimp.

 I wish I was bringing good news of relief for the near future, but at the moment I don't expect there to be any major drop in shrimp prices before the month of August.  Shrimp represents one of the most consumed seafood items in the American diet, so this issue is nothing slight.  Margins are beginning to tighten on shrimp as wholesalers and retailers alike try to contend with just how far, or should I say how high, consumers will go to get their shrimp on the plate.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Soft Shell Season Is In Full Swing

Last Thursday, the 15th, was the first full moon in May and the annual  big spring run of local soft crabs kicked off to a great start.  Memorial Day weekend is a great time to enjoy soft shell crabs. Peeler runs, when crabs begin molting, are coming on strong now in the Core, Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds of North Carolina. Almost simultaneously, as if they received the call from Carolina, the crabs in the Northern Neck of Virginia (James, York, Rappahannock, & Piankatank Rivers) have begun their run. 

The Eastern shore of Virginia is starting to catch lots of peelers and Maryland creeks and rivers will most likely pick up the week after Memorial Day, meaning that there could be a glut of local soft shell crabs for the next few weeks.  The recent 80 to 90 degree days have finally warmed the shallow waters enough to spur the crabs to awaken from their winter slumber. The crabs were "fat" when they buried in the mud last November and now they must shed their shells (exoskeleton) in order to grow. They increase their size roughly 30% each time they molt.  It is one of the true wonders of nature to watch.  Imagine being reborn, casting your skin aside and re-defining yourself physically. Chitin is the protein responsible for hardening the crab shell to the almost inedible state in which we are accustomed to cracking with hungry mallets and tacky bibs during the summer months.  The process only takes about 6 hours, making the window to harvest the perfect textured soft crab out of the water very short. 

This run will last only about three weeks, so don't delay, it may be the biggest glut of the season for soft shell crabs.  This will be the time when quality is high and prices are low, and unfortunately by the 10th of June it will be over.  Soft shell crabs will still be available, but prices will rebound as the volume drops.  The crab population is predicted to be less than last year, so don't miss out on a sure bet over the next three weeks.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The King Of Salmon Is Ivory

It's early spring, the Mahi are on the move, Alaskan halibut and sable have started showing up, crabs are stirring in the Chesapeake and, wouldn't you know it, we just received our first Ivory King salmon of the year.  It's definitely early in the season but as you know the beginning of the season is where you find some of the tastiest fish.  Copper River hasn't opened just yet but we have received a small delivery of Ivories from Sitka Sound, Alaska courtesy of skipper Jeff Hochstein of the fishing vessel Pacific Sun.

The Ivory King salmon is quite a unique fish.  I have previously posted on its merits and scarcity and encourage anyone buying wild salmon this year to try the Ivory.  Only the king salmon species can be ivory, a condition that results from a natural mutation.  Ivory salmon is rare in the wild; only a small percentage of fish carry the gene and historically the fish were seen as inferior.  Unfortunately, today's chefs have gotten much smarter and the fish are in much higher demand.  I have seen the price of ivory salmon triple over the last 5 years, and rightfully so.  Ivory salmon do not have a strong salmon flavor, like normal kings do.  Instead their white flesh is buttery, almost nutty, with rich oils and a mild, savory finish.  It's a different experience from dining on your typical salmon, almost feeling like you are eating a different species.  The flesh nonetheless is par excellence and for my taste buds the ivory kings are at the top of the salmon spectrum.

The Pacific Sun landed the troll caught ivories on Tuesday and we were fortunate enough to have them FedExed to us on Wednesday - talk about dock to door!  Trolling is a type of hook and line fishery that is sustainable with little by-catch.  We were only able to snag two fish, and price is always at a premium in the early runs of the season, but if you ask me or anyone else who's tried the ivory salmon, any trouble is well worth it.  So here's to the king of king salmon, just in time for the queen of your castle.  Happy Mother's Day!