Restaurants stop selling seafood, hike prices amid inflation

Seafood is disappearing from menus from the Big Apple to Seattle, as surging wholesale costs throttle restaurants.

The cost of scallops in the New York area, for example, have gone “crazy,” Mike Price, chef and co-owner of The Clam in Greenwich Village, told Bloomberg.

So rather than pushing the higher costs onto consumers by raising prices, Price decided to yank scallops from the menu.

Other eateries in cities across the country have reportedly either yanked increasingly pricey items off their menus or passed those costs on to customers to deal with the surging inflation that’s now hitting certain seafood items.

According to federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the wholesale cost of finfish and shellfish is up 18.8 percent from June of last year.

Those surging costs have led to hikes at the menu, with the price of fish and seafood up 4.5 percent over that same period, according to the most recent data available from the BLS.

The cost of certain items has risen even more drastically.

Martin Cornejo unloads a crate of live Dungeness crabs from vessel Migrator into a container dockside at Pier 45 in San Francisco.
The price of blue crab has risen to $44 a pound — 140 percent up from $18 per pound.
Stephen Lam/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Josue Pena, chef of the Atlanta-based tapas joint the Iberian Pig, told Bloomberg that a pound of halibut is going for $28 from his local seafood distributor in Atlanta. Before the pandemic, it was $16 at most, he reportedly said.

And blue crab has gone from $18 a pound to $44 — up more than 140 percent.

It’s just the latest headache that restaurateurs are confronting as they seek to emerge from the depths of the pandemic that shuttered many of their businesses for much of the past 15 months.

As restaurants have reopened, they’ve grappled with a severe worker shortage that’s spurred many to raise wages and further increase costs to lure new cooks and servers. And surging prices on everything from delivery boxes to olive oil and tomatoes have also hurt the bottom line.

All those issues and the latest spike in seafood costs, part of a broader inflationary wave that’s been building in the US economy in recent months, are hitting restaurants just as they hoped they’d be fully reopened and making up for sales that were lost during the pandemic.

There are a few reasons for the rise in seafood prices, similar to the situation playing out in various industries throughout the economy.

Ports are overwhelmed due to a labor shortage, Gavin Gibbons, vice president of communications at the National Fisheries Institute, told Bloomberg.

A shortage of truck drivers has also hurt restaurants’ ability to actually get their hands on fish, as well as various meats.

The value of seafood is also soaring due to its demand as Americans are eating out in droves.
The value of seafood is also soaring due to its demand as Americans are eating out in droves.
Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

“Distributors used to hustle and bustle to get your business,” Jay Herrington, who owns Fish On Fire, a restaurant in Orlando, told Bloomberg. Now, “you don’t get a delivery, or it’s a late delivery. Sometimes we have to go and pick it up.”

Herrington said he raised prices by as much as $3 to offset the higher costs.

“There’s just no stopping it,” he’s quoted as saying.

Commercial fisherman Bob Maharry, right, and deckhand Drake Hoffman guide a basket of Dungeness crabs from the hold of the fishing vessel Migrator while unloading at Safe Coast Seafoods on Pier 45 in San Francisco
The price of fish and seafood is up 4.5 percent since June of 2020.
Stephen Lam/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

There’s also a shortage of fishermen because many left the industry when demand at restaurants for fresh fish fell during the pandemic, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Meanwhile, demand for seafood — and everything else on the menu — is soaring as Americans eat out in droves.

At High Tide Harry’s in Orlando, co-owner Brennan Heretick told Bloomberg that the price of crab meat and lobster has more than doubled since January.

A worker at Maine Coast, and a crate full of Lobster at the Boston Fish Pier on Jan. 15, 2020.
A shortage of fishermen is also hurting the fishing and restaurant industries.
Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

As old customers return to his restaurants, Heretick has opted to keep menu prices the same and just eat the rising costs, but it’s not sustainable, he said.

One recent month, High Tide Harry’s brought in record revenue, but still lost $14,000, according to Bloomberg.

“We hope,” Heretick reportedly said, “that when we do have to have a little bit of a price increase, that everybody’s understanding that we did everything we could.”

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