By: Les Hodges
We love the Holidays but it’s great to get back to some sense of normalcy knowing that the crab business in any year is anything but normal! We appreciate the support of both suppliers and customers and look forward to a good 2016.
The 2015 Alaska Bering Sea Red King crab fishery is completed and the fleet has moved on to the 2015/6 Bairdi and Opilio Snow crab. Demand from Japan buyers for Bairdi Snow crab has been strong and initial shipments have been with prices up 4% on large size crab and 14% on small size vs. last season.
The duel pricing level for Red and Gold king crab market is a reality and will continue in 2016. Both Alaska Red and Gold King crab are selling well at prices significantly above Russian King crab.
It’s also clear that the live crab business in Asia been a success and is the major factor in the lower imports of King crab to the U.S. and Japan over the past year. The lower imports had the expected result. King crab prices in the U.S. are up 20-40% depending on size as compared with 12/31/14. Snow crab prices with imports up 5% are in the same range as 2014.
This newsletter is divided into two sections: one, a section on “REGIONAL CRAB FISHING” which details the latest harvest data; and two, a section on regional “REGIONAL MARKET UPDATES” which discusses imports, marketing trends and more.
> REGIONAL CRAB FISHING >
Alaska Crab Fishing:
The Bering Sea Red King crab fishery for 2015 is finished with 100% of the quota taken.
The Alaska Aleutian Islands Golden King crab Fishery continues at a slow pace. Quality is again excellent, but size has been running smaller than anticipated.
The Alaska Bairdi Snow crab quota was increased from 15.1mm lbs. to 19.66 mm lbs. Although most early and large product went to Japan, there is product in Seattle for the U.S. market. Quality is excellent but availability on large 12oz up size is less than last season. 9.344mm lbs. or 47% of quota has been taken as of 01/6/16.
Eastern Bering Sea Bairdi Snow crab is larger than Western Bering Sea product, which presents two price levels in some cases. Current market prices reflect the size of the product as well as quality.
The Alaska Opilio quota for 2015/6 is reduced 40% from last year’s 67mm lb. to 40.6 mm lbs. The product sold through well at last year prices, but marketers could struggle if prices increase materially. Only 2% of the quota has been taken so far.
Norway Crab Fishing:
The Norway King crab season began on January 1 with the quota increased to 2,000 m/t. from 1,300 m/t.
Russian Crab Fishing:
There are 16 Russian vessels fishing crab in the Far East as of December 29 plus another10 Russian flag vessels and 15-20 others are fishing in the Barents Sea for Opilio.
4 Far East processors are fishing Red king crab, 2 each on Blue King crab, Brown King crab, and Opilio. 4 Vessels continue to work on Deep Water Snow crab.
Russian producers have stated that they intend to increase live King and Snow crab deliveries in 2016.
In the Barents Sea fishery, there are 10 Russian flag vessels fishing in the Russian Zone and 15-20 processors fishing Opilio in the international waters. This fishery will be more important in 2016.
REGIONAL MARKET UPDATES >
The mass China population avoids the purchase of most premium seafood including crab. At the same time it is apparent that the wealthy Chinese consumers like King crab and Russian processors are developing an infrastructure to efficiently market their crab. With Dungeness season now open in Oregon and Washington, China buyers for the live market are lining up with cash!
The ¥ strengthened in December 2015 and now sits at 118.71¥/USD.
Japan crab imports through November 2015 including meat continue at a lower rate than 2014. Imports are off-18% through October at 43,747m/t vs. 53.105m/t in 2014.
Snow crab is a bright spot as is +4% compared to King crab which is -30% year to date through November. Processed Opilio imports in November were up 12% vs. prior year at 2154-m/t and plus 4% year to date 23.862m/t (52.61 mm lbs.) year to date. Largest suppliers were Russian followed by Canadian and U.S. Deliveries from the vessels fishing in the Barents Sea area and Norwegian Opilio also continue to increase.
Processed King crab imports by Japan were 2,154 m/t in November vs. 2,141m/t in 2014. Total imports year to date through November are 3,827m/t (8.440mm lbs.) vs. 5,472m/t (12.064 mm lbs.) in 2014.
Japan live King crab imports from Russia remain well behind 2014 with legal landings at 741 m/t. This category is down -66% YTD.
Alaska Bering Sea Red King crab contracts were settled in the $15.00/lb. range delivered main Japan Port. Inventory of king crab is low in Japan so buyers who must have Red King crab for the holidays had little choice especially in light of the high percentage of Russian Far East processors fishing for the Asia live crab market.
Korea continues to gain in importance as a crab market.
Korea imported 344 m/t of live Snow crab and 437 m/t of live King crab in November. Year to date through November Korea has imported 5,217 m/t (11.501mm lbs.) of live Snow crab and 3,687m/t (8.128mm lbs.) of live King crab.
Live king crab prices in November from Russia averaged $21.68/kg. Norwegian Red King crab came in higher at 26.04/kg.
The Korean market prefers live King crab, as processed frozen King crab imports are only 347.4 m/t through November.
Total imports of crab to Korea are 18.838 m/t (41.53 mm lbs.) through November.
Dungeness crab >
Oregon and Washington Dungeness opened on January 1 with first deliveries scheduled around January 4. Initial grounds price has been set at $2.90/lb.
California is still showing unsafe levels of demoic acid and the commercial fishery remains closed.
The loss of the lucrative Thanksgiving and holiday business has hurt the fishermen and marketers of this great item. That said, the crab is now being delivered and the live buyers are waiting with cash.
King Crab (Red and Gold)>
Alaska Red and Gold king crab pricing has been established at higher levels than Russian product. Limited supply, high product cost, and strong retail demand for U.S. product set the stage resulting in a duel pricing level for King crab.
Quantities are very limited on Alaskan Red King crab and most inventories have been depleted. Same situation on Alaska Gold King crab as demand exceeds supply.
Russian producers continue to increase prices after realizing the difference between Russian and Alaska prices. There is limited supply on mid size and small Russian Red King crab. The best value remains to be large Red King crab
U.S. imports of Russian King crab in November were up 129.9% vs. 2014 at 2.033mm lbs. Year to date imports of Russian King crab are -18.2% at 18.847mm lbs. vs. 21.823 lbs. in 2014. Including the small Argentine Santolla Southern Red crab the King crab category is off -13.2% year to date with imports of 22.672mm lbs.
We believe that Russian King crab supply for the U.S. will continue to be short in spite of a larger quota for 2016. This is a direct result of Far East Russian processors fishing live King crab vs. processing their catch.
Santolla Southern Red crab >
Argentine Southern Red crab that is reported under the King crab category is up year to date 10% at 4.623 mm lbs. This item represents 20% of the King crab category. New season for Santolla is underway.
Snow Crab >
In November U.S. imports of Snow crab were 2.621mm lbs. vs. 2.021mm lbs. in 2014. Total imports through October are 105.7 mm lbs. vs. 93.914mm lbs. in 2014 up +3.8%. Year to date imports are 103.562mm lbs. vs. 96.625mm lbs. in 2014.
The lower prices in 2015 vs. 2014 have helped move the 2015 season inventory. Canadian Opilio snow crab is short, and prices have moved up .15-.30/lb. Larger sizes are in very tight supply with some customers switching to smaller sizes and a better price point and in some cases if large size is required moving to Alaska Bairdi Snow crab.
Canadian Opilio represents 84% of total Snow crab imports. However, the significant growth of the open area Barents Sea area Opilio Snow crab fishery is ongoing and should mitigate the lower Opilio snow crab quota for Alaska in 2016. Product from this area accounted for at least 32% of U.S. imports in November.
The new Alaska Bairdi Snow crab season is underway, with 47% of the quota being taken as of 1/6/16. Early strong Japan demand has resulted in only limited amounts of product coming to the U.S. market to date. Initial prices in the U.S. are higher than 2015 levels for comparable product and there is less 12oz up size available compared to last season.
Buyers should be aware that all Bairdi Snow crab is not created equal in size! Product from the Eastern Bering Sea will normally be larger than the product from the Western Bering Sea. One should ask the supplier for details, as price should reflect the size as well as quality.
Russian Deep-water Japonicus and Angulatus Snow crab inventories in the US are lower than last year at this time. Demand is steady for this item.
Retail support for both King crab and Snow crab were excellent. 45% of the ads on crab in December were featuring King crab!
Several major retailers booked for holidays and chose Alaskan King crab over Russian King crab. With limited supply, there is price pressure on what few parcels remain at this time.