Our 2019 U.S. Shellfish Industry Outlook

2019 Shellfish Industry Outlook.jpg

Over the last ten years, we have seen the oyster market explode. We saw the rise of farmed oysters, the rapid openings of raw bars, and the expansion of the cocktail-size oyster market. The shellfish industry continues to surprise us with innovation and newcomers. But as it grows, it is also drawing more attention from the public sphere. As we look forward into 2019, here are the industry issues and trends we are thinking about and how they may affect the shellfish market.

Supply Trends

Climate Change

At the most recent 2019 Northeast Aquaculture Conference & Exposition, climate change was the hot topic. The ramifications of climate change for the shellfish industry are far-reaching. Ocean acidification and warming waters are affecting shellfish health and development. Shellfish are becoming more susceptible to disease and less resistant to invasive species. More frequent and extreme weather systems also increase the risk of losses. Stormwater runoff carrying excess nitrogen is causing more algal blooms harmful to shellfish.

Figure 2.31: Shells Dissolve in Acidified Ocean Water (Nina Bednarsek, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory )

Figure 2.31: Shells Dissolve in Acidified Ocean Water (Nina Bednarsek, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory )

Global-Temperature-Chart-529px.png

2019 IMPLICATIONS

Climate change is the new reality, and it will likely continue this year and into the near future. The consequences of climate change will definitely affect supply. Winter storms, wind, and other weather systems will limit farm access and production. There could be more frequent shellfish area closures due to heavy rain or algal blooms. Vibrio bacteria also thrives in warmer waters, which increases the risk of illnesses and related closures.

The warmer temperatures will likely induce shellfish to spawn sooner and potentially longer.  This will affect their quality during the warmer months. The soft shell clam fishery continues to struggle with climate change, and its decline will limit supply. Connecticut, a large producer of hard shell clams, is seeing a decline in wild set seed. This will likely put future pressure on hard shell supply as well.

Regulations affecting catch and harvest

“They have no idea about the impact on the habitat and the fishery… And they’ve made a regulation that’s going to affect people dramatically in a negative way.”

- Former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang

Public agencies and regulators are trying to mitigate the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, these regulations can hurt the industry. This past December, the New England Fisheries Management Council closed an area in Nantucket Shoals to protect aquatic habitat. The area, however, was also vital to the surf clam industry. The closure may cause surf clam harvest and production to drop by 50%. Surf clam is a New England staple — it’s the main ingredient in New England clam chowder.

2019 IMPLICATIONS

Market prices on wild shellfish will likely increase with supply constraints. Product costs on surf clams have already gone up since the closure. These costs inevitably get passed along the supply chain to the consumer. Local, state, and federal regulations affect the industry's ability to produce and sell. If new rules apply in 2019, they may pose unforeseen supply challenges.

Oyster farmers are more prepared

Despite all the doom and gloom around climate change and regulations, oyster producers are readier than ever. Growers have had to deal with the effects of climate change and red tape for more than a few years now. Oyster hatcheries now breed seed to adapt to ocean acidification. Industry changes have forced growers to find smarter approaches, and they’re now more prepared for the unexpected.

Preparing oysters for winter on the Standish Shore Oyster Farm

Preparing oysters for winter on the Standish Shore Oyster Farm

2019 IMPLICATIONS

If Mother Nature is kind, farmed supply will be relatively steady throughout the year. It's hard to predict unforeseen forces like new regulations or industry shifts. So if all stays the same, weather aside, we expect oysters to be fairly available moving through 2019.

Market Trends

Credit: Sara Norris

Credit: Sara Norris

Interests in something new

The raw bar market is starting to mature. Restaurants and diners are now looking to branch out of local varieties. Demand for Pacific oysters is growing on the East Coast. Interest in Northeast oysters is growing in Gulf regions. The Midwest is seeing a lift in shellfish growth from both coasts.

2019 IMPLICATIONS

Demand for local seafood will remain strong, but this increasing interest for different and new will help farms reach markets outside their local regions. Smaller producers will have more opportunities to find their niche market. More restaurants are also adding oysters to their menus, so businesses will need to stay creative to entice their customers with their shellfish offerings.

Interests from abroad

Despite growing domestic demand, the international appetite for American shellfish is even greater. Asia and Europe are heavy seafood consumers. Domestic producers can command a higher price in these export markets. As of late, politics have definitely affected seafood exports going to China. The West Coast shellfish industry is feeling its effects. On the European front, the FDA is working with the EU to lift an import ban on American oysters.

2019 IMPLICATIONS

The global political climate has been difficult to predict. If trade tariffs stay, shellfish exports, especially to China, will continue to struggle. As a result, Pacific shellfish availability could improve in the domestic market. If the FDA and the EU are able to lift the American oyster ban, this will be great news for producers. Peak shellfish consumption in the EU occurs during the winter when consumption is slow in the US.

More aquaculture, more public visibility

The growth of the shellfish industry has definitely not gone unnoticed. The oyster farm boom has drawn attention in many local communities concerned with their water access and waterfront sight lines. These NIMBY (“Not In My Backyard”) issues are miring the industry in lengthy and/or costly legal battles. These issues are leading to delays in permitting and sometimes, forcing farms to close up shop.

milford-oyster-festival-19.jpg

More consumers enjoying shellfish also means increased risk of shellfish-related foodborne illnesses. These illnesses receive more media attention, which can become greater public concern. Media outlets sometimes paint the industry as careless despite the industry’s preventative efforts.

2019 IMPLICATIONS

The good news, however, is that many in the public, especially younger generations, have good faith in the industry. They understand that farmed shellfish and aquaculture are sustainable choices. Misinformation remains, but consumers are getting smarter by engaging with producers and suppliers. They are educating themselves and asking questions about their food sources.

This good faith has helped the industry weather difficult situations. There have been times past when the public has come to the industry’s defense. Our industry will continue to invest in public education and marketing with hope to continue this momentum of public support.

----

Overall, we expect 2019 to be a pretty steady year. But then again, that can all change in a second based on the whims of Mother Nature. It’s part of our jobs to deal with the unexpected, so we’ll figure it out as an industry. We have seen lots of change over the years, so this year may be no different. Keeps us on our toes. In to 2019 we go.

james-standish-shore-boat.jpg

A Visit to Greenpoint Fish & Lobster

Whenever I travel, I always try to squeeze in some time to visit our customers and check on our oysters. We move thousands of oysters a day and ship them to our distributors all across the country, so it can be difficult to track down where our oysters go. It's always a pleasant surprise to find our oysters when dining out.

In New York City, we ship to a few restaurants and markets including Greenpoint Fish & Lobster. They've been open for less than a year, but have been generating a ton of buzz lately for being the only local fish market in the Greenpoint/Brooklyn area. They also have a reputation for serving delicious seafood, like our oysters!

I met up with Vinny Saturday afternoon at the shop. He gave me the grand tour of the place and a behind-the-scenes walk to pick up more bagels from The Meat Hook. We chatted about the market, his previous career (he was a lawyer in the music industry), and his seafood family in Boston. The Boston seafood industry is a small world -- Vinny has known Ben and Dan since they were operating Pangea from a single 10' x 20' cooler.

After the tour, we got down to business to do some quality checks. Pangea oysters on the menu that day were Pemaquids, Irish Points, and Paradise Coves. I also tried the Chatham from MA and the Wild Goose from RI. Of the 5, the Pemaquid was my favorite. Cup, meat fill, and flavor were all on point. Wild Goose and Paradise were close seconds. Vinny also had Martha's Vineyards in the display for people to buy and shuck at home!

If you're looking for a place to get awesome oysters (some that come from us!), Greenpoint is definitely worth the trip. Really cool space with awesome staff.

Cheers and #eatmoreoysters,

Connie

 

Greenpoint Fish & Lobster
114 Nassau Ave. at Eckford Street in Brooklyn, NY

(718) 349-0400
Open daily from 11 am - 9 pm

Fish Mongers of New York aka "FMONY"

New York City is arguably the capitol of the world. It has so much to offer and a diversity of people no other city can compare. With a population of 8.3 million, the city has tons of personality and naturally, this is represented by its amazing restaurants, markets, and fish mongers!

I made a trip to NYC to see some of our customers, and it was so exciting to see our oysters. What I loved most, though, was the personalities I met along the way. Inspired by Humans of New York aka "HONY," I present to you Fish Mongers of New York aka "FMONY" (pronounced "F Money"; can be interpreted in any way you please because they're all appropriate). If this ever gets catchy, you heard it here first.

I come here once a week and deal with a number of vendors who take care of me.
— Krystof Zizka
You gotta take a picture of these crabs.
You going to take my picture?
We like supporting local fishermen here.
— Bobby Watt

To see my whole NYC oyster adventure, check out the video below! New York City is HUGE (as I learned on that trip), so there are more places to explore. Comment below with your favorite raw bar/seafood restaurant or if you have spotted one of our oysters like Standish Shores in the Big Apple! Huge shout out to the FMONY that made my trip so memorable and enjoyable. Until next time!

Aren’t you cold walking around in shorts?
I started down here fifteen years ago. I started working at New Seafood. Since then, I’ve been with three other companies and pretty much here right now.
— Patrick O'Toole
Can I take a picture with one of you? We never see girls here.
I know three things: fish, oysters, and not to get married a third time.
— Les Barnes
The Lobster Place is celebrating 40 years tonight.
— Davis Herron