Observations/recaps/outlooks for king and snow crab markets

Russia, Norway and Canada are the biggest global crab catchers - but king crab from Alaska is the crowd favorite.

by | December 7, 2023

King/snow crab in high demand for the holidays; US crab imports surge, says global expert

Reflecting On 2023 King And Snow Crab Market Dynamics

Source: Les Hodges Consulting
By Les Hodges with Hiroshi Onuma
December 7, 2023

The U.S. economy has continued to defy expectations, showing resilience in the face of uncertainty. The third–quarter GDP growth surged to an impressive 5.2% offering a hopeful signal that a recession might be averted, even as inflation takes a cooling stance. However, economist now expect growth to slow in the fourth quarter as consumers pull back on their spending. The Federal Reserve has not confirmed but most economist believe that they have enough leeway to hold interest rates steady in December in spite of being above the 2% goal.

Looking back on 2023 the seafood market has witnessed both triumphs and challenges . U.S. snow crab sales soared amid lower prices, but high end-seafood, including king crab, faced pricing pressures as consumer preferences evolved.

The U.S. imports of snow crab are up 21% through October with all three major suppliers led by Canada having major increases. The increased imports, which now total 126mm pounds through October, and combined with significant price reductions in 2023, has reshaped the market dynamics for this category.

King crab imports are down -87% through October to 3.4mm lbs. as compared to 25.1mm pounds in 2022 before the Russian ban went into effect. In the future, imports from Norway combined with the Alaska harvests, will not be able to make up the gap in the market. This is the last time for the forceable future that limited Russian red and gold king crab will be available for the holidays.

On the international front, exports to-date of live Russian king and snow crab to China compared to 2022 are staggering! Russian live king and snow crab deliveries to China through October are up 61% to 26,619 M/t . The other major markets not closed for Russian crab are Japan and South Korea which are also surpassing 2022 results with much lower prices vs. 2022.

The 2024 Russian crab quotas have been released, reaffirming a solid resource base. The total crab harvest for all specie for the Barents Sea and the Far East is 104,229 M/t, closely mirroring the 2023 figures.

The Norwegian crab quotas have not been released as of this date but red king crab is expected to be set at a level approximately 60% lower than 2023.

PRODUCTION:

Russia: The recently introduced export tariff on seafood has been reduced from 7% in November to 5.5% for December shipments.

The Ministry Of Agriculture has set the 2024 Russian crab totally allowed catch at 104,229 M/t. The king crab TAC for all specie is similar to 2023 with 38,057 M/t. Blue and Golden king crab seasons will open in January while Red king crab will open in September.

The Opilio snow crab is the largest specie of snow crab harvested with the greatest resource in the Far East of 30,821 M/t while the Barents Sea quota is 15,900. Snow crab totally allowed catch in 2024 is 64,083 M/t.

The November 28 SSD report (Scheduled Shipping Date) shows 88% of the 58 vessels fishing are focused on live crab. There were 18 vessels fishing for red king crab with 16 for the live market and two cooking for the Japan market. Opilio snow crab also has 31 vessels harvesting with 25 for the live market and four for processed markets. Golden king crab only had four vessels harvesting with production split between live and raw frozen.

The latest SSD shows shipments of 726 M/t of live red king crab to China and Korea along with 300 M/t of live snow crab.

Norway: 

Exports of Norwegian seafood in November totaled $152mm This is a 17% increase from the same period in 2022 and have now surpassed the total 2022 exports.

The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research has recommended that the 2024 red king crab quota be cut from the 2023 level of 2,375 M/t to no more than 966 M/t or a 59% decline!

This will present challenges and difficult choices for Norwegian crab processors as both live red king crab and frozen red king crab have seen major increases in sales in 2023.

Norway exports of live red king crab through November reached 1,567 M/t which represents a 74% increase with the U.S. surging to the top market with 459 M/t. Average price was $41.90/kg which was a 25% decrease from 2022.

Frozen red king crab exports through November increased 82% to 691 M/t with the U.S. representing 52% of the market. The average price was $55.04/kg.

November exports of red king crab were 236 M/t with a value of 9.282 mm USD. The value was up 29% compared to November of last year. The U.S., Hong Kong, and Spain were the largest markets in November. The U.S. is the largest growth market for king crab and received 105 M/t in November. Of this, 73 M/t were live crab with an average price of $35.95/kg. source: Norwegian Seafood Council

Norwegian snow crab exports were only 3 M/t of snow crab in November as the season was concluded in April and inventories depleted. U.S. imports of Norwegian snow crab are now 1,764 M/t through November and is a 155% increase compared to prior year.

Alaska: 

The 2023/24 Alaska red king crab TAC was set at 2.15 million lbs opening on October 15. This should produce about 1.3mm lbs. of finished sections or legs & claws. Alaska red king crab is expected to be in high demand and dominate vs. other sources of king crab for the holiday season.

Concurrently, the Bering Sea golden king crab season continues with a combined TAC of 5,530,000 Lbs.

The 2023/24 Bering Sea Tanner crab season opened October 15 and is ongoing at this time.

The 2024 Commercial Tanner Crab Fishery quotas in Kodiak, Chignik, and South Peninsula Districts have been released. Kodiak will receive a TAC of 3.0mm lbs. vs. 5.9mm lbs in 2023 for a -49% reduction. Chignik will remain closed, and the South Peninsula will receive a TAC of 480,000.

The 2023/2024 opilio snow crab and the St. Matthew Island Blue Crab seasons will not take place.

Canada: 

Canada represents 92% of the total U.S. snow crab imports through October. The lower prices in 2023 resulted in a significant increase in retail and food service support over the summer and fall. Snow crab led the market in premium shellfish and as we move into the holidays is expected to continue being promoted although it is noted that many retailers have raised the price to the consumer over the last month.

U.S. imports of Canadian snow crab have dropped from the summer levels over the past two months which was expected and stands at 115.6mm lbs through October. Imports for October show a – 43% decrease from 2022 at 1.956mm lbs. 

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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