NORTH PROVIDENCE – Finding a deal on your favorite seafood this summer will likely be a little more difficult as many factors continue to cause costs to fluctuate and often increase.
Mark Castelli, owner of Captain’s Catch Seafood in North Providence, who first opened the store a year out of college in 1982, says he’s seen it all.
Everything right now is “in place but stable,” he said. The breeze in mid-May, with little price drop. Seafood prices depend on supply and demand, he said, and there are countless pressures and factors in the market that make shipping difficult, from intense regulations to weather challenges such as wind and rain.
Tell him what the stock market will do this summer and he’ll tell you what seafood prices will do, Castelli said. If those on the boats catch a lot, the price goes down. If they don’t, the price goes up.
During the pandemic, he said, with lockdowns and closed ports, there has been little or no fishing for a long time and a very limited supply. Supply and demand boil down to who is going to pay the most for the product.
Castelli said he is currently debating whether to spend $1,050 on a case of king crab that was previously $200 per case.
“I haven’t decided,” he said of the purchase, which would likely see him charge customers $75 a pound.
Lobster prices go down no matter what, he said, and every year lobsters become very scarce and very expensive in the winter, this year climbing to $20 a pound. Lobster prices started falling in mid-May, he said, dropping about $4, and he was hoping for another drop before his next purchase. Believe it or not, he says, he makes more money when prices are lower, and there’s no fun in passing the costs on to the customer.
Weather factors that caused recent chaos in the market included days of high winds keeping fishing boats docked and half an inch of rain keeping shell beds closed, Castelli said.
“The wind is ridiculous,” he said.
As with many products, there are A, B, C and D grades of seafood, he said, and he will only deal with an A grade, sticking to the mantras of quality, shelf life and service life of his business. One of the last independent fish sellers, he said, the staff at Captain’s Catch work every day (seven days) as best they can.
Another local place to buy a fresh catch is Wilfred’s Seafood Inc., 805 Cumberland Hill Road in Woonsocket.
In the 43 years of business owner Gary Machowski said he had never seen such high prices, and he said it was all about diesel fuel prices and higher overall costs.
“I hope someone will allow us to use fuel again,” he said.
The seafood industry is short of lobsters, but Machowski said lobster boats run on diesel, and diesel costs up to $6 a gallon. He said changing ocean dynamics caused by climate change are helping to reduce lobsters overall.
His best-selling seafood, Machowski said, has always been cod and haddock, but with summer coming, many people are choosing to grill and prefer grilling fish like swordfish, salmon and tuna. Swordfish went from $8 to $10 a pound, while wholesale salmon is $11 a pound (early May). Steamers could become a delicacy, he said, at $8 a pound.
Machowski said a slow emergence from the pandemic is supposed to offer a good sign, but rising prices are getting scary.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “During the pandemic, at least the supply came to the seafood markets and the prices were better. I have never been so confused and frustrated.
Machowski said he tries to keep helping customers’ wallets by maintaining Wilfrid’s punch card, where they can buy 12 and get one for free.
The weekly specials continue to be popular, he said.
When asked if seafood prices were helped by Rhode Island being the ocean state, Castelli said anyone could answer that question for themselves by looking at it. going to Point Judith to see what was being unloaded at the docks. “Nothing,” he says, and what arrives is often shipped overseas. The whole market is impacted by regulation and other factors, he said. People have strict rules about where they can fish, how they can fish, and how many pounds they can catch.
Bars love to eat baby lobsters, but there are fewer lobsters. Who’s going to spend a lot of money catching bass if they’re just catching one, he said.
When asked if people should expect a lot of deals this summer, Castelli said he always tells people his product is for sale, not for sale. Substandard seafood is on the market, he said, but he’s betting on quality, consistency and a comparably priced product above all else.
“I can’t predict availability,” he said.