When a major brand changes the method or alters the recipe of an iconic brand it’s bound to cause a stir. So it was shock horror last month when it was announced by Guinness that they would no longer be using fish bladders as part of the brewing process. To some it will be a shock that fish bladders are even a part of the process, in fact they are the main constituent of an ingredient called isinglass that has been used for several centuries by brewers and wine makers as part of the clarification process. Vegan beer lovers had been petitioning the brand to discontinue using isinglass. As it’s use had declined considerably in recent years with many brewers already using vegan friendly alternatives it was only a matter of time before Guinness bowed to the pressure.
For several seasons the French elver (juvenile eels) fishery has made numerous attempts to have its catch limit of 30 tonnes increased, but with a ban on exports outside the EU and only sales of half that amount being achieved within the EU last year this demand seemed a bit of a mystery. That was until last July when TRAFFIC, a conservation publication, issued a report in Tokyo detailing and analysing publicly available data on eel production, trade and consumption in East Asia. China was responsible for 85% of the world’s production of eel in 2013. Historically eel farming and trade in China involved their Japanese eel (Anguilla Japonica) but as they became scarce in the 1990s they started importing Anguilla elvers from Europe to farm. Concerns in Europe over the impact of international trade in our European species led to regulation in trading and a subsequent total ban in exports outside the EU in 2010. China then had to shift its buying attention for juveniles to farm to Japan, South East Asia and the Americas. Records analysed of live eel fry imports into China surprisingly have no corresponding records in exporter data but indicate large-scale use of illegally sourced elvers from Europe. “Could these be French elvers?” I hear you say. In the words of Francis Urquhart in the British TV drama series House of Cards “Well, you might very well think that but, of course, I couldn't possibly comment.” What I can tell you is that France, which cannot account for where half the elvers caught last year were sold has managed to get its elver quota from Brussels increased from 30 to 57 tonnes for the 2015/16 season that starts now. French trawlers are already in place at the mouths of the Adour, Gironde and the Loire with nets either side of their boats power fishing, much of which is certain to be supplying the illegal trade to the Far East.
New evidence has also just been published in the United States proving that eels migrating along the North East Coast of the US are making the same long journey to the Sargasso to spawn as our migrating European eel. The eel in the US is suffering the same challenges that face the European eel (blocked pathways and hydroelectric dam systems) there has probably never been a better moment for the US fishing industry to get behind a restocking, conservation programme similar to Europe.
It’s no surprise that with the run up to Christmas we have seen prices moving in an upward direction. It’s always the same at this time of year, it’s how much and how quickly salmon farmers can implement the price rises and then keep them up there. Over the last 3 weeks prices have moved up over 30% and show no signs of weakness. This year the story has been all about sea lice issues and the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, in an attempt to get on top of the problem, has ordered many farms to cut their allowed bio mass by 50% from January 2016. In Scotland they have been suffering the same issues and in order to get on top of the problem have been harvesting heavily which has included huge volumes of small fish. With less fish in the water than planned this of course is just putting off a problem for the future, and forecasts suggest fish volumes will be tight at the beginning of the New Year. All this will be compounded by Russia who have approved recommencing fresh salmon imports from certain sources in Norway.
With less volumes being produced in Chile and demand from the United States rising, price volatility is almost certainly here to stay, with predictions from farmers that Easter is when thing will get really critical.
Remember it’s the season of goodwill and all that, best wishes to all our customers and followers. Health and good luck for the New Year.