By Laine Welch
The Boston Seafood Show provides a good barometer for the mood in the global fish business and by all accounts, it was upbeat. The show is the largest in North America, attracting some 16,000 buyers and sellers from 90 countries.
“People are much more optimistic this year,” said John Sackton, a veteran industry market expert.
Sackton said demand for seafood is increasing and people are scrambling to get certain types of fish.
“Pollock, salmon and crab — all of these markets are quite strong right now and it made for a good show,” he explained.
According to Sackton, a hot-button topic at the Boston show was “short weights.”
“A lot of legitimate seafood sellers are competing with unscrupulous importers who bring in product at 70-80 percent net weight because of over-glazing,” he explained. “Then they sell it to restaurants at a lower price. It’s very difficult for a lot of the established companies and brands to compete with this. There is a lot of feeling that the FDA really needs to step up enforcement in this area.”
Sackton added that companies that short weight also take short cuts with food safety.
One of the best things gained from the Boston show each year is learning about the buying and eating trends of American consumers. Major food gurus all said that Americans are eating more seafood to improve their health. National surveys by The Perishables Group showed that 82 percent of consumers said they bought more seafood in 2009 because they are trying to eat healthier. And Omega 3 is the hottest label claim in the market today.
Belt-tightening during the recession has changed shopping patterns — fewer Americans are eating seafood at restaurants and more are buying it to eat at home. Shoppers are looking for good values though, and discount coupons are back in vogue.
One troubling sign: there is a huge age gap among U.S. seafood eaters. According to the Power of Meat study by the Food Marketing Institute and American Meat Institute, 40 percent of shoppers aged 65 or older say they want to eat more seafood. However, only 16 percent of 18 to 24 year olds.
Seafood Source News said eating trends from the show: more use of raw fish in sushi and ceviche, whole fish dishes, all-in-one steam pots and fish tacos — with Taco Bell announcing a new fish taco addition to its menu. A new product getting good buzz: Trident’s Wasabi Sticks: a surimi crab leg with wasabi in the center.
Jonathan Forsling of Togiak Seafoods made his first trip to the Boston show, and said he was surprised by all the farmed fish.
“I didn’t expect to see so much of that. It was a bit of a shock,” he told KDLG.
Martha Fox agreed it was an eye-opener.
“I’ve realized that — for fishermen who live in my area — it is important to keep the quality of fish high if we want better fish and more markets,” she said.
U.S. lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say they have the votes to finally ratify the Law of the Sea treaty. The 1982 UN treaty – which includes 158 nations — governs activities on, over and beneath the oceans. It includes the Arctic, but the United States can’t stake any claims to that region until it signs onto the treaty.
“We have an opportunity as an Arctic nation to extend our territory based on the outer continental shelf, and annex an area close to the size of California that would be available to us for resource exploration and development,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a phone interview. “Not only can we not submit a claim or application, we cannot dispute anybody else’s.”
Treaty-signing might not happen any time soon. That’s not because of political bickering, but due to Congress being so tied up by the healthcare debate and the upcoming mid-term elections. Murkowski said congressional calendars are jammed.
Meanwhile, Russia already has planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole and is building the first offshore oil rig that can withstand extreme cold and pack ice. Norway is staking claims to vast oil and gas deposits. And Canada has announced plans for an Arctic military training base.
“So we have all these other Arctic nations that are able to tap into a resource that we too would have been able to claim for our own,” Murkowski fumed. “But we can’t act unless we are a signatory to that treaty. To me, it’s a no-brainer.”
At press time, the Sitka Sound roe herring fishery was ready to pop. Check out the line-up at ComFish in Kodiak, April 15-17. www.comfishalaska.com
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