Seafood prices are in the spotlight as Aussies prepare their stomachs and wallets for their Christmas feasts this year.
Even as experts predict steady or lower prices of some seafood favourites – like prawns – this year, a price tag attached to a popular fish fillet has left consumers enraged.
A picture of a tray of flathead fillets in a Harris Farms store in Albury, in regional NSW, going for $79.99/kg sent outrage rippling through social media this week.
Comments quickly flooded the post, and a number said they had “never seen anything like that price” before. Some suggested it was “time to buy a rod and reel” to try their own luck at catching lunch.
“Cheaper to fuel up the car, drive down to the coast and catch them yourself,” one person wrote.
“I’d rather eat canned tuna than pay this much for flathead fillets. Surely they got the price wrong.”
Others suspected “something fishy” about the eye-watering prices.
“Skinned and boned. I’d want it cooked in a reasonable restaurant for that price,” another wrote about the fillets.
“The customer is the one getting skinned and boned,” someone else replied.
The startling price tag comes despite industry experts saying consumers would not be caught out by inflated Christmas seafood prices this year.
Seafood Industry Australia chief executive Veronica Papacosta – who is also Managing Director of Fish in the Family, the company that supplies seafood, including the flathead in question, to Harris Farms – said seafood “prices have not shifted” in the lead up to Christmas, unlike years before.
She said prices of the “big three” menu items: prawns, lobsters, and oysters were particularly stable.
But flathead prices, she said, were a whole other kettle of fish.
“I remember, as a kid in retail, putting $8.99 or $9.99 tickets on flatheads, so to see $80 (per kilo), it is jarring,” Ms Papacosta, speaking in her capacity as industry CEO said.
“But flathead are a very particular produce. If you look at the way the fillet is cut, people like to eat it boneless and skinless and in doing that, we only retain about a quarter of the meat.”
As well as that “consumer preference” influencing the prices, she said “flathead fishery has been contracting for some time”.
A spokesman for Sydney-based retailer Manettas Seafood Market – which operates out of the Sydney Fish Markets – said flathead were “one of the most fluctuating fish on the market”, given the limited number of Australian fishers and the “wastage level” in preparing fillets.
But, he said, the $80/kg price tag is an outlier in a “relatively level” fish market.
Ms Papacosta echoed this sentiment, saying flathead prices were not only “not seen in the broader fish case” at the supermarket, but that fish prices were not climbing “at a rate that is accelerating past other proteins”.
Indeed, meat and seafood prices rose 1.8 per cent in the 12 months to October 2023, while dairy products have increased 7.8 per cent in the same period, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Food and non-alcoholic beverage prices, overall, rose 5.3 per cent in that period, outstripping the 4.9 per cent total inflation figure.
Flathead at other retailers are markedly lower than the Harris Farms fillets.
Woolworths’ offers fresh skinned and boned flathead fillets for $48/kg. Coles sells pre-crumbed frozen South Atlantic flathead fillets from Birds’ Eye for upwards of $40/kg. ALDI does not sell flathead fillets.
Meanwhile, market fishmongers’ prices fluctuate upwards from $16.95/kg – for frozen wild-caught fillets via fishme.com.au.
Manettas Seafood Markets sells a whole flathead fish for $24.17/kg (or $29.00 per whole fish), or fillets for $49/kg.
Speaking in her capacity as Managing Director of Fish in the Family – a Sydney-based seafood distribution company started and run by the Papacosta family since 1976 – Ms Papacosta downplayed negativity surrounding the $80 flathead price tag at Harris Farms.
“Most people would see prices have been relatively stable. I think there’s been a lot more impact on other proteins,” she said.
“I think people appreciate the value of producing and going out into the ocean and catching fish.
“I think they will see this is an outlier and most of the broader fish range is quite stable – compared to movement in things like beef and other protein.”
She said it was “sad” that because it was a popular fish, buying flathead fillets may hurt the hip-pocket of some consumers in some instances; but said the people who want the fish will buy it at whatever cost.
“People who buy it, insist on it. But there are other options that can do what they need it to do in the recipe or on the plate,” she said.
“That’s the biggest strength in seafood, it’s not just getting a different cut of meat, but a different species entirely.”
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