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What’s up with fish prices?
With many abstaining from meat during Lent, the demand for fish goes up drastically. Every year, consumers have become accustomed to paying more for popular varieties of fish like snapper (red fish) carite and kingfish. While many are willing to pay $40 and up/pound, others argue that the price of fish is too steep and vendors are profiteering.
But is the increase in fish prices down to unscrupulous vendors or is it because of the nature of supply and demand?
Director of Premiere Seafoods Gerry Ayin says it’s the latter. In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian Ayin said it really came down to what consumers wanted.
“Snapper or kingfish are favourites around this time, not because there aren’t any other types of fish available, but because it is what they want. If there is a demand the price will go up and they will continue to buy it.”
Ayin said at Premiere Seafoods the fish they processed was caught abroad and prices were pre-negotiated, therefore, there was no fluctuation in prices, unlike what occurred in the fish markets.
“Although we can take advantage of this situation, we don’t. Right now, our retail outlet at National Fisheries is selling three pounds of kingfish—not the local king fish but the Wahoo, for $65,” said Ayin.
Other fish processed by the company include marlin and carite. In addition to Premiere’s retail sales, they also supply to a number of food outlets and restaurants.
He mentioned El Pecos restaurant on Ariapita Avenue, and said the restaurant was a regular buyer and they served fish all year round.
“When we sell to the restaurants we set a price—there is no hike in price in turn by them, even during the lenten season.”
Ayin said in the seafood business, the lenten season was like Christmas for the industry.
“From the start of Carnival, all through Easter is when the high demand really steps in. I don’t think it’s fair to say that consumers are being robbed. Where you have a limited supply and a great demand, cost will go up.” Ayin said.
But a representative at Kent Farms Ltd, one of the country’s largest tilapia producers, is not convinced it is a clear case of demand and supply.
The Kent Farm representative who prefers to remain anonymous, pointed to lack of foresight on the government’s part and said there should be a structure in place to encourage supermarkets and wholesalers to buy locally grown and packaged fish.
He said this was one of the reasons consumers thought there weren’t alternatives available on the market and may have been forced to pay exorbitant amounts for fish during the lenten season.
“The Government needs to focus on bringing cost down. They prefer buying fish from overseas, rather than helping fish farmers develop the local fish farming industry,” he said. “It’s been 40 years since the tilapia industry was established, and still today it has reached nowhere.
“Fish coming out of my pond are competing directly with fish coming from China and Guyana. It is only recently the government removed vat from the fish being imported from China.”
He said another species, the Pangasius fish, was also considered for production as it had the potential to be stocked six times more than the tilapia, but when the idea was presented to the director of National Fisheries, it was rejected for one reason—tilapia had a greater demand.
“I am seeing fillets being sold for $15/pound,” he said.
“Fillets? If we are really serious about making food more affordable, we need to focus on bringing down cost and that will only occur if we produce our own.”
Vendors: We are making a small profit
Doing its own investigations, the T&T Guardian visited various markets in central and east Trinidad and Port-of-Spain and spoke with fish vendors about the high price of fish.
We discovered that the fish in greater demand—snapper, kingfish and carite—were all priced at around $40 a pound. The vendors said they were not making any major profit from selling these fish and complained that sales had been slow but hoped they would pick up closer to Easter.
At the Chaguanas market, vendor Fiaz Jhangir gave us a breakdown of the retail and wholesale prices:
FISH RETAIL PRICE WHOLESALE PRICE
King fish: $40/pound $35/pound
Snapper: $30/pound $22-$23/pound
Cro Cro: $12/pound $8/pound
Shark : $15/pound $9/pound
Salmon: $30/pound $25/pound
Cavalli: $20/pound $13-$16/pound
Carite: $40/pound $35/pound
Bosch: $25/pound $16-$18/pound
Tuna: $20/pound $15/pound
Shrimp: $30/pound $25/pound, but can increase depending on size
Cascadura: $20/pound $15/pound
Mixed fish: Four pounds for $20 $2.50/pound
Vendor Stephen Balroop caters to consumers who prefer saltfish or smoked herring, and sells those at about $20 a pound, after he purchases at the wholesale price of $18 per pound.
At the Tunapuna market, vendor Neville Maharaj confirmed the prices given by Jhangir. He also had moonshine on sale at $20 per pound. He said consumers in Tunapuna buy more cavalli and cro cro. In Port-of-Spain, Prince Street vendors Shawn Daniel and Vijai Mahabir also confirmed the prices. However at lower Prince Street, vendor Rudy Mohommed makes carite, salmon and tuna a little more affordable to customers, selling salmon at $15 per pound, while carite and tuna are $35.
Chef Jason Peru who was featured on CNC3’s 2012 cookery series Taste, said canned or frozen fish are decent substitutes for fresh fish.
Peru said tinned pink salmon can be used to make fish balls. The simple recipe calls for mixing the fish with roughly mashed potatoes and seasoning with salt, black pepper and fresh herbs. The mixture is divided into bite-sized balls which are rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried.
He also recommends flaked canned tuna for making accra and surimi (smoked crab meat) for curries and as a stuffing for dumplings.
For more recipes email Jason Peru at [email protected]
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