sale anywhere in Northeast Ohio – or anywhere else in the country, for that matter – has been tainted by the oil surging out of damaged BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But that hasn’t stopped seafood suppliers from raising their prices a bit in anticipation of higher demand for a smaller supply of shrimp, oysters, blue crabs and snapper.
Jim Catanese, president of Catanese Classic Seafoods on the East Bank of the Flats, which supplies seafood to more than 200 restaurants, clubs and hotels, says prices for shucked oysters and Gulf shrimp have jumped as much as 15 percent.
“I had a deal to buy several thousand pounds of Gulf shrimp, but when I called about it, they said, ‘We’re going to hold it and we don’t know how much we’re going to release,'” he said. And when they finally do sell it, they told him it’ll cost 10 percent to 15 percent more.
Despite the fact that he can buy seafood from sources all over the world, he’s still watching prices on mahi-mahi, tuna, swordfish, snapper and crab from the Gulf.
“I don’t have to raise my prices on items that I’ve already purchased, but when I go to buy again,” he probably will have to, he said.
Eric Schmiedl, general manager of Don’s Lighthouse on Cleveland’s Near West Side, has seen the same thing.
“Even though most of the shrimp sold in the U.S. doesn’t come from the Gulf area, we did notice our prices going up from $7.50 to $8 a pound,” he said. “There are some companies who may be taking advantage of that situation to raise their prices.”
Don’s Lighthouse serves fresh oysters, grouper, tile fish and several kinds of snapper from the Gulf, but Schmiedl said he won’t raise his menu prices unless he’s forced to.
“We don’t knee-jerk react to price increases, we try to ride it out unless it seems like it’s going to be a long-term thing,” he said.
Freeman Ngo, chef and owner of Pacific East sushi and Japanese restaurant in Cleveland Heights, and co-owner of Pacific East’s sister restaurants in Woodmere and Solon, where seafood makes up more than half the menu, hasn’t seen any increase in his wholesale prices yet.
While he is keeping an eye on the Gulf, he’s not worried about not being able to find fresh fish for his diners.
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“Tuna is found all over the world,” he said.
Jeff Heinen of Heinen’s Fine Foods doesn’t expect the spill to have much impact on his stores, “because we actually don’t get much seafood from the Gulf.”
The Gulf snapper and grouper for sale in his stores were caught closer to the Florida Coast, and all the Gulf shrimp “was caught prior to the spill,” he said. “The shrimping areas have not really been affected yet.”
As for his wholesale prices, “we’ve seen a very slight uptick in prices, but nothing that we’ve passed on,” he said.
At Giant Eagle, spokesman Dan Donovan said: “We cannot speculate on the spill’s impact looking forward, but that it is currently having no impact on seafood prices in our stores.”
Catanese’s biggest fear is that the upcoming hurricane season could blow the oil slick around the Florida Keys and up the Eastern seaboard.
“Depending on which way the wind blows, it could be devastating,” he said.
“It’s certainly fair to say that the market will go up on this, but how much it’ll go up is anybody’s guess,” he added. “I’ve never seen any kind of crisis happen and people not raise prices.