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The price of fish: why is it so expensive?

Tuesday 27 Oct 2009 7:53 p.m.

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With the way fish prices are going at the moment you might think the industry is a goldmine - with some Snapper prices up over $50 per kilo.

But ask the fishermen and they'll tell you their profit is more mud than gold.  So who is making the money and what's it got to do with the price of fish?

In four years the price of Snapper has gone from an average of $28.75 per kilo to around $40, and a few months ago it was selling in fish shops for more than $50 per kilo.

And what are the fishermen getting?

Dave McIntosh has been a commercial fisherman in Auckland for more than 30 years. He says they're not only paid poorly for Snapper - but most fish - sometimes just .90c per kilogram for Gurnard.

“Most the fishing companies will pay you around about $4 .20 - $4.50 a kilo.How has that changed over the years? Well in 1986, 87 we were getting $4 for it so it's not gone up a lot in the last 20 odd years has it,” says McIntosh.

Filleting fish profits goes something like this.

• Around $4.20 per kilo for snapper to the fisherman.
• Around 20c goes to quota levies for the Ministry of Fisheries, Department of Conservation and others.
• The rest covers distribution costs and mark up by the retailer

It's worse for individual fishermen who don't have a quota license. They have to lease one from someone who does and that means some end up paying more for the lease than the return they get for the fish.

The fishing quota season started again from scratch on October 1, so technically there should be an increase in supply of many fish species.

The supermarkets say in the short term that will push prices back down. But will they go down as quickly as they came up?

Prices have ballooned since 2005. In 2005.
Snapper was around $28.75 per kilo. Today progressive enterprises which owns Countdown, Foodtown and Woolworths says it's usually $40.95 but on special this week at around $34.

Foodstuffs which owns New World and Pak n Save averages $35.

Tarakihi was $19.19 in 2005. It's now $29.95 at Progressive and around $26 at Foodstuffs.

Gurnard was $18.40. It's now $28.95 and about $25.

Salmon fillets were $23.95. Usually $33.99 at Progressive but on special for $18.99, at Foodstuffs they're around $29.

Foodstuffs say there was a spike in prices in August and September because of bad weather at sea and short supply.

Neither of the chains would explain why there had been such a jump in the past five years. They say the cost just reflects the price they have to pay and distribution costs have gone up.

“That would be fair but the cost of catching it has gone up in price. When oil goes up in price all your nylon materials go up in price. The cost of rope, transport for getting fish out to market and to airport for export markets,” says McIntosh.

McIntosh says a decade ago New Zealanders couldn't get enough fish but he thinks demand is sinking.

“I could bring in seven tonne three times a week and sell it. If I brought in three tonne tomorrow I’d still be sitting there next Wednesday trying to sell it. Price wise I think it's just putting everybody off the price of fish”.

On the other hand it does prove a very good case for lazy days spent fishing this summer.
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