Crab prices are skyrocketing

In Quebec, crab is selling for more than ever. If it makes the industry happy, it puts consumers at risk.

Posted on March 31

Suzanne Colpron

Suzanne Colpron
Press

Last year, the price of snow crab jumped. It’s exploding again this year. The price of the first arrivals of the season, which opened on Friday, exceeds $38 per pound of boiled crab in Montreal. Last year it was around $26. Enough so that crab legs are no longer part of the springtime ritual for many Quebecers.

“It’s unheard of,” says Christian Sluga, owner of Délices de la mer fish shop in Jean-Talon market.

“People come looking for the same thing, but buy less. I’ve seen many people come in wanting four sections and then decide to take two instead of four. It’s too expensive. »


PHOTO BY FRANCOIS ROUIS, PRESS

At the Jean-Talon Market, the price of live snow crab is $21.50 per pound. Boiled crab is $38.50 per pound.

One section requires from 12 to 18 dollars, depending on the size of the legs. count For four people eating three portions, that’s between $140 and $216. Not a bad price for dinner at home.

Several factors

This explosion can be explained by several factors: galloping inflation, which increases costs, especially transportation costs, the introduction of quotas on Alaskan crabs by the American government, which led to higher crab prices in the United States, and in addition, it paid Quebec fishermen, and the effects of the invasion to Ukraine, as the Russian boycott also affects Russian crabs, which are valued in the United States and Japan.

“It’s pretty simple,” summarizes Pierre Leonard, fisheries coordinator for the Innus-Essipit First Nation on the North Coast. There are practically no Alaskan crabs on the market. With what is happening in Ukraine, the Russians will not sell their crabs in the USA. And the demand in the American markets is very high. That’s what dictates the prices in Quebec because it’s a more export-oriented market. »

In fact, Quebecers only eat a tiny fraction of the crabs caught here. The vast majority of crustaceans are sold in the United States. In 2020, the US market accounted for more than 96% of the value of Quebec’s total snow crab exports, according to the latest data from the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.


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Pierre Leonard

It’s a resource that’s here, but actually the retail prices in Quebec determine the export prices.

Pierre Léonard, Innu fisherman

“I think it’s terrible for the consumer. I think that at some point the consumer will catch on, he adds. At the end of the week, some fish were sold here, but they are not the volumes we usually sell. »

The same phenomenon in the Gaspé. “When crab starts, we usually see queues at the fish shops,” says Gaspesian Christian Servant. This year I have spoken to many fishmongers who have stock. Not everything that was ordered was sold. »


PHOTO BY FRANCOIS ROUIS, PRESS

Crab legs may no longer be part of many Quebecers’ springtime ritual because of their price.

“We must test the market”

Still, it’s too early to know demand in the U.S. market, according to Jean-Paul Gagnier, director general of the Quebec Fisheries Industry Association (AQIP). AQIP represents processing companies that buy crab from fishermen.

“At the moment it looks like the catches are good. It is interesting. Now we have to test the market,” he says.

The price the factories are offering fishermen is currently $7.50 per pound of live crab, compared to $5.75 at the start of the 2021 season. It could rise to $10 in the coming weeks, depending on demand.

$7.50 per pound is a tentative price because we don’t know how the US market will behave. There is inflation, everyone’s purchasing power has fallen. That’s why we are careful. As we speak, there is no hype from American buyers about snow crab.

Jean-Paul Gagnier, Director General of AQIP

Fishing began on March 25 in zone 17, Gaspé and Haute-Côte Nord. Zone 16 is due to open on April 4. Zone 12 is coming soon.

“When everyone comes to the market, the supply is very large. This is where the price will be fixed, explains Mr. Gagnier. Will it stay the same or increase? We’ll see. »

Jean-René Bouchet, director of the Zone 16 Snow Crab Fishermen’s Council, sees things differently. He expects the price paid to fishermen to quickly rise to $10 a pound and possibly $12 a pound.

“There is a high demand and a favorable international context,” he notes. Given the current state of the market, there is no reason to start at $7.50 per pound. Of course, it is more expensive than it was for consumers. On the other hand, we must understand that the fisherman is not necessarily the big winner in all this. There are several intermediaries between the fisherman and the consumer’s plate. »

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Snow crab export value in millions of dollars in 2019. In 2015, it was 122 million dollars.

Source: Government of Quebec


PHOTO BY FRANCOIS ROUIS, PRESS

Quebec snow crabs

Why is it so expensive?

Many factors account for the difference between the price paid to the fisherman ($7.50 per pound) and the price the consumer will pay ($21 to $27 per pound) in Montreal for live crab.

First, fishermen sell wholesale peaches to processing companies: the clams can be damaged, without legs, but the processors can save everything.

Second, crab bought in the height of the season from a fish store does not go through processing, but is bought directly by fishmongers or wholesalers, who add their markup and must bear the costs of transportation and storage. The crab is very fragile: it cannot survive in water like a lobster, and it does not survive long on ice. Therefore, losses must be taken into account. Those crabs you can’t cook when they refuse. Or even those crabs that have too many legs. Thus, prices may also differ between fishmongers who have direct links with fishermen and those who have to use the services of a distributor.


PHOTO BY FRANCOIS ROUIS, PRESS

Christian Sluga, owner of Délices de la mer fish shop

For us, just shipping a truckload of crab to the Gaspé is about $1,500. Driver wages have increased, plus gas costs, it’s unbelievable. We do it every other day.

Christian Sluga, owner of the fish shop Délices de la mer, in the Jean Talon market

Third, there are two fresh crab products. A live crab is cheaper because the crustacean’s body is not edible. We keep only five legs and their base. Thus, a whole crab will lose 40%.

For this reason, most consumers, to avoid cooking and the unpleasant step of tearing the legs off a live crab to submerge them in boiling water, buy the cooked parts from a fish store instead. The price of boiled crab in Montreal is about $39 per pound.


PHOTO BY FRANCOIS ROUIS, PRESS

A live crab is cheaper because the crustacean’s body is not edible.

It is cheaper in the east

Prices are lower in Quebec and Gaspé, where live crab can be bought for $15.50 per pound and cooked crab for $29.95 per pound. Last year, in the same regions, live crab sold for $11 a pound, and cooked crab for $22. In 2020, it was $9 per pound of live food and $17.50 per pound of cooked food.

How much does it cost a consumer in Montreal? It depends on the amount we eat, our appetite and the size of our paws. The unofficial norm is one portion of five legs per person for the main course and two to three sections for the main course. Small appetite, two sections, $24 to $36 depending on size. Big appetite, $36 to $54. And multiply by the number of guests!

Natural oscillation

Snow crab populations naturally fluctuate over eight to ten years. According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, stocks in the estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence have now bottomed out. “Biomass available for fishing should be comparable to 2021,” says biologist Cédric Juillet of Canada’s Maurice-Lamontagne Fisheries and Oceans Institute. “You should know that we mainly catch male and adult crabs 95mm or larger,” he adds. Female crabs have no commercial value due to their smaller size.

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