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Long IslandPolitics

Wholesale fish prices drop as restaurants cut back

Last week the Southold Fish Market, seen here

Last week the Southold Fish Market, seen here in 2017, announced that an employee had tested positive for COVID-19, and the retail store would be temporarily closed for sanitizing. Credit: Randee Daddona

Prices for lobsters and other fish are seeing sharp drops as export markets see declines and restaurants have cut back on orders as customers hunker down amid the coronavirus outbreak, Long Island fish dealers say.

Meanwhile, the decision to limit restaurants and bars to delivery and takeout only is rippling across the wholesale fish market, leading one large East End fish seller to tell local baymen to stop fishing altogether until demand catches up with supply. 

The wholesale price for lobsters, normally anywhere from $12 to $15 a pound this time of year, have fallen under $8, dealers say. Other normally pricey fish such as tuna and swordfish are also taking a dive, as restaurants in New York City cut back on orders because of stay-at-home customers, or city residents who have left to summer homes in the Hamptons.

If there’s any silver lining right now, said Nino Locascio, co-owner of Mastic Seafood in Mastic, it’s the walk-in retail market in Suffolk, where business has remained brisk. He also sells wholesale to local restaurants, and that business is down “dramatically,” he said.

Locascio, who has operated his business for 23 years, said he’s considering using his fleet of trucks that normally deliver to restaurants to start a new service delivering seafood to homes. He’ll make a decision by week’s end if restaurant sales continue to lag, he said.

One East End seafood shop and restaurant that has seen a dramatic impact on business is the Southold Fish Market. Last week the market announced that an employee had tested positive for COVID-19, and the retail store would be temporarily closed for sanitizing. A recording announcing the closure has since been removed, and no one answered phones there Monday. A sign on the door of the closed shop told of the infected worker but no further information was available. 

State officials didn't respond to specific questions about the Southold Fish Market's infected worker or who else may have been infected, but provided a link to guidance for retailers to keep stores sanitized. 

Phil Karlin, a fisherman from Riverhead who also operates a small seafood shop and sells in green markets, was in Manhattan selling at an outdoor market downtown Monday, and the retail business was “pretty busy,” he said, though the tourists he normally sees at the market were nowhere to be found.

“There’s people outside," Karlin said. "This is New York. There’s a lot of office people home working,” and they have been scooping up the clams, oysters, fluke and porgie fillets, and scallops he sells.

Karlin’s only worry, he said, was that city managers would limit access to vehicles in and out of the city, though open-air markets may offer an advantage.

Right now, “They’re going to allow food to come in,” he said. “I think that will keep the Green Market open. It’s safer to shop outside than in stores.”

Karlin’s wholesale price for lobsters was $7.50 a pound, down from $10 a week ago, he said. Locascio said the price could slip by another $1 by Tuesday. “Every time you buy some product, it comes down the next day,” he said, adding the price of swordfish and tuna have come down so low that some suppliers have suggested he take tuna on consignment, at whatever price he can sell it for.

At Braun Seafood Co. in Cutchogue, manager Keith Reda was trying to get his arms around the difficult news that bars and restaurants had been ordered closed except for takeout and delivery.

Restaurants represent the majority of Braun’s business. He’d already received a call from one high-end restaurant in Sag Harbor, canceling his order. Many more are expected.

The news has rippled through his business.

"I’ve already called our local baymen and told them, 'Don’t go fishing,'" Reda said. “I don’t need the stuff.”

Reda said he “totally understands” political leaders’ decisions to prevent the spread of outbreak and “we need to trust the people running the country,” but he also wondered how the restaurant edict jibed with bans of gatherings of 500 people or more.

Most restaurants he works with would be “happy to seat 30 people” this time of year.

Braun has also seen a sharp decline in pricing from wholesalers, including lobsters and tuna. Lobsters at Braun’s store were as low as $9.95 a pound.

Lobster prices are “falling faster than you can talk,” he said. “Tuna is dirt cheap.” 
 

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