24 Million Pounds of Snow Crab Arrives in April and Disappears!

Source: Les Hodges Seafood Consulting
By Les Hodges

Credit: Hiroshi-Ohnuma at SeafoodNews.com 
June 9, 2021

The current U.S. economic recovery is unlike any in recent history, powered by consumers who have saved trillions of dollars during the pandemic. The ending of the pandemic with vaccine levels increasing is unleashing pent-up consumer demand from the pre-shutdown economy.

According to U.S. Commerce Department data, spending at stores, restaurants, and online shopping portals increased in March 2021 to $620 billion and stayed at that level through April. These levels are $100 billion larger than the same period in 2019 when the economy was booming. (source:WSJ). Fresh Seafood sales increased in April 2021 vs. April 2020 and were up even more compared to 2019. This tremendous sales growth in April, according to 210 Analytics, was driven equally by shellfish and finfish.

Market prices in 2021 for king and snow crab have increased almost every week with  demand outpacing the ability to supply. The consumer demand during the pandemic resulted in strong sales of overall fresh and frozen seafood at retail. New markets were created for premium items that were seen in the past mainly in foodservice. Now, in order to maintain their gains, retailers must compete with the rapid opening of the food service sector in addition to a strong International demand for a resource that is limited in supply.  Prices have been driven to all time highs with more increases coming in the future for crab.


Russia: The Russian crab resource is good with the TAC for 2021 over 100,000 M/t.  The harvesters are working to supply two basic markets:  the live crab market and processed crab. These markets must compete for attention of the processors. The May 30 Russian crab catch data for the Far East crab fisheries show a total of 81 vessels harvesting crab.  Of these vessels about half are harvesting for the live crab market. Six of the processor vessels are producing live blue crab.

Forty-nine vessels are harvesting Opilio snow crab with 50% delivering for the live Asia market. Seven vessels are fishing Golden king crab of which 4 are cooking for the U.S. market. Another 7 vessels are fishing deep water snow crab and all are cooking the catch.

The first deliveries of cooked Sea of Okhotsk Opilio snow crab just arrived in Busan, South Korea this past week and was sold on an auction basis.  The overall quality is very good, with appearance downgraded due to a high percent of crab having sea lice on the shell.  In spite of this defect the 180 M/t parcel of mainly 8up and larger Snow crab received the highest price achieved so far this year.

Norway: Norway exported 117 M/t of king crab and 773 M/t of Opilio snow crab in May. Live king crab sales exceeded frozen as 566 M/t have been exported through May and only 233 M/t of it is frozen king crab. Year to date total  999 M/t of King crab and 2,587 M/t of snow crab. The King crab value increased by 193%.  At the same time the value on snow crab increased by even more at 581% compared to May of 2020.  The largest market on live king crab continues to be Korea. The U.S. has become the largest market for frozen snow crab at 800 M/t through May, followed by Denmark and Netherlands.  Prices exceed 2020 levels on all items. The TAC for 2021 are 6,500 M/t on snow crab and similar to 2020 at 1,930 M/t on king crab.

Alaska: As of May 31 the  2021 Alaska Opilio snow crab harvest is completed. The Tanner (Bairdi) snow crab fishery only harvested 62% of TAC. The Golden king crab fishery has completed the Eastern Aleutian TAC and progressed to 94% in the Western Aleutian with 167k remaining.  Even with an IFQ allocation of 40.5mm lbs, very little Opilio snow crab offerings have been seen in the U.S. market as most product moved directly to customers in both Asia and the U.S. The same pre-sell pattern is seen on Golden king crab with little for resale beyond the first receivers.

Canada: The Canadian snow crab season started early with intense demand as the major market (U.S.) was dry, especially on the predominant 5-8oz size.  The market price escalated rapidly and the FFAW (Fish, Food, and Allied Workers) renegotiated the grounds price based on the higher market price, up to $7.60can/lb. Shipments to the U.S. market began almost a month earlier than usual with 20.3mm Lbs. delivered in April vs 2.2mm lbs. in 2020.

Demand has continued strong with prices moving up almost every week. The Gulf catch is about finished with the last report of 95% TAC and Newfoundland at 72% this past week of the much larger 38.186 M/t.  With the season running until July 31 it is expected to harvest the entire quota. It was reported this week that deliveries to China and Japan are underway as well as the U.S. Market.

Overall 2021 harvest to date is over 55,000 M/t of the 71,498 M/t TAC.