Seafood Prices Soar Amid Supply Chain Issues and Worker Shortage

As demand for fish rises, restaurants are slammed with employment losses, port congestion, lack of product, rising costs and shipment snags

Lobster on a teal blue plate with a side of coleslaw, lemon wedge and potato salad
A perfect storm of high demand clashing with supply chain issues, worker shortage and delivery problems is forcing restaurant owners to raise seafood prices on their menus. Benson Kua via Flickr under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A post-Covid-19 economic inflationary surge has seafood places rewriting their menus—sans lobsters, scallops, crab and many fish dishes.

Prices have risen by as much as 50 percent in the last quarter due to a lack of fishers and truck drivers combined with climbing consumer demand, reports Christine Blank of SeafoodSource.com.

“The price we had to charge to be profitable was almost insulting,” Josue Pena, chef at The Iberian Pig in Atlanta, tells SeafoodSource.com. He was forced to remove the restaurant’s signature crab coquettes after crab prices nearly doubled.

Overall, the wholesale price of finfish and shellfish rose 18.8 percent from June 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports Will Feuer of the New York Post. Halibut soared from $16 a pound to $28, while blue crab skyrocketed from $18 to $44—an increase of more than 140 percent.

Per Bloomberg’s Adam Jackson and Kate Krader, the jump in seafood prices is part of broader inflationary increase working its way through the economy as the United States continues to emerge from the pandemic. However, the seafood surge is also related to an employment shortage, port congestion, lack of product, rising prices and transportation issues.

“Distributors used to hustle and bustle to get your business,” Jay Herrington of Fish On Fire in Orlando tells Bloomberg. "You don’t get a delivery, or it’s a late delivery. Sometimes we have to go and pick it up.”

The root cause is a lack of workers in the fishing industry. Many left the industry at the peak of the pandemic when demand was low—and they don’t appear to be returning to work anytime soon.

“A lot of people went into construction,” Michael Priebel, manager of Keys Fisheries in Marathon, Florida, tells Bloomberg. “We see less and less people coming back every year because they are getting old and fishing is getting more expensive.”

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, restaurant owners have endured the brunt of economic pressures. In addition to capacity restrictions and diminished demand, those businesses have been hit by major increases in supply costs and worker wages.

So far, Brennan Heretick, co-owner of High Tide Harry’s in Orlando, has resisted passing on those costs to customers, many of whom are just returning to his restaurant. The result? He experienced record revenues with a $14,000 loss in recent months.

“We hope that when we do have to have a little bit of a price increase, that everybody’s understanding that we did everything we could,” Heretick tells Bloomberg.