When I first moved to Vancouver in the late 1970’s, I was able to buy whole, live geoduck for a dollar each. Nowadays, they are twenty dollars a pound (each one averages between 2 and 3 pounds). In the early 2000’s, I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area and during Dungeness crab season, fresh whole crabs can be had for two dollars each (about 2 pounds). Now, they are around ten dollars a pound pretty much anywhere on the west coast. One of my favorites, Spot prawns had gone up 500% in price over the last 5 years. Another favorite, live Alaskan King crabs are now routinely forty to fifty dollars a pound and with reasonably sized ones weighting in at 8 to 10 pounds each, you might need to take a mortgage out for one.
The astronomical prices of live seafood of late is mainly due to the huge demand in China. Being the factories to the world had made a lot of people affluent with a rapidly growing middle class. Culturally, food is very import to the Chinese and live seafood is considered “high-class” food. With their own supply dwindling due to the high demand as well as an increasingly more polluted shoreline, they look to overseas for their supply. China now imports eight to nine million tons of seafood a year. Over 90% of Rock lobsters from the west coast of Mexico and the United States are exported to China as are 50% of the Atlantic lobsters of Canada. To ensure a continuous supply of Canadian lobsters, Chinese companies now own half of the production and processing facilities of live lobsters in Canada.
I was in a seafood restaurant in Guangzhou, China a few years back and saw first hand the love for live seafood of the locals there. This restaurant was five stories high. Second to fifth floor were for dining and the main floor was filled with containers for live seafood. They boasted of having over 200 types of live seafood from over 40 different countries. These ranged from a 5 foot caiman, all types of snakes, 20 types of eel, to many kinds of crabs, prawns, shrimps and fishes. To order your food, you would go down to the main floor with your server and picked out your live seafood, told her how you wanted it done and it would be brought to your table. The whole event was quite an experience.
Next time, after buying a dozen ball-point pens for a dollar at your local Dollar Store, you may wonder to yourself – “how can they make money at this price?”. Don’t worry, they make plenty and they are eating our seafood!
To see a Youtube video of a live seafood restaurant in China, check this out – Seafood Restaurant.