Quota cuts to push snow crab prices up

A 40 percent reduction in the total allowable catch (TAC) for Alaska opilio crab is likely to send prices higher – and boost demand from foreign buyers – this season. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game set the 2015-2016 TAC at 40.6 million pounds, a significant drop from last season’s quota of 67.9 million pounds, and the lowest since the 48.6-million pound harvest in 2010.

“I’m definitely hopeful that with reduced supply, we will see a bit better prices [than last season],” Mark Gleason, executive director of industry group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, told SeafoodSource. “I expect that some of the quota reduction will be offset by increased prices, but it is not yet clear how much the total income from snow crab will be reduced,” said Jake Jacobson, executive director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange (ICE), which typically harvests 70 percent of the snow crab quota.

snow crabWhile buyers from Japan typically contract for healthy amounts of the opilio catch early, Gleason is unsure about Asian buyers’ purchasing power this season. “With the weakened yen, it is going to be tough.” Jacobson also predicts decreased overall demand from Japan this coming season. Last year, the average ex-vessel price for snow crab deliveries from ICE was USD 2.04 (EUR 1.84) and the average wholesale price was USD 4.65 (EUR 4.20) FOB Seattle. Crab suppliers say it is too early to say how much snow crab prices will increase for the 2015-2016 season. “The market for Alaskan snow crab historically forms up around mid-January,” Jacobson said. “With earlier deliveries of opilio last year and the year before, there has been some interest earlier, but I do not foresee the bulk of firm price commitments until the first of next year.”

Despite the quota cuts, a bright spot for crab suppliers is the growing popularity – particularly among U.S. supermarket buyers – of bairdi snow crab. The total TACS for Eastern and Western Bairdi crab increased slightly this season to 19 million pounds.“We are expecting a higher ex-vessel price for both of those reasons [retailers’ improved marketing of Bairdi and quota cuts],” Jacobson said. “Lately, there seems to be some species differentiation, and I expect knowledgeable buyers to recognize and demand this very sweet and flavorful species,” Jacobson said. Likewise, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) will likely be stepping up its marketing of bairdi this season. “Everyone loves Alaska king crab, but bairdi crab is one of the best kept secrets in seafood. The crab has amazing flavor and we are experiencing a pretty incredible increase in abundance right now,” said Tyson Fick, communications director for ASMI.