As Aussies prepare to eat their Christmas dinners, they are focusing on the prices of seafood.
While experts are predicting that prices for some seafood favorites, like shrimp, will remain the same or even decrease this year – a price tag on a popular fillet of Fish has consumers outraged.
This week, a picture of a flathead fillet tray in a Harris Farms Albury store, located in regional NSW, selling for $79.99/kg, sent shockwaves through social networks.
Many people commented that they “had never seen anything so cheap” before. Others suggested that it was time to “buy a rod-and-reel” so they could try their luck at catching Fish.
One person wrote: “It’s cheaper to drive to the coast, catch them yourself and fuel up your car.”
I’d rather pay for flathead fillets than eat tuna in a can. “Surely, they miscalculated the price.”
Some people suspected that the prices were “a bit out of line.”
“Skinned and bones. “I’d like it cooked at a reasonable restaurant at that price,” wrote another about the fillets.
Someone else responded, “The customer gets skinned alive and mutilated.”
The shocking price is despite the fact that industry experts said consumers wouldn’t be surprised by high Christmas seafood prices.
Seafood Industry Australia’s chief executive Veronica Papacosta, who is also Managing director of Fish in the Family – the company that supplied the flathead in the question to Harris Farms – said the prices for seafood had not changed in the run-up to Christmas.
She noted that the prices of “big three” items on the menu, prawns and lobsters as well as oysters, were especially stable.
She said that flathead prices were another kettle of Fish.
Ms Papacosta said, “I remember as a child, I used to put $8.99 or $9.99 on flatheads. So, seeing $80 (per kilogram) is shocking.”
“But flatheads are a special product.” When you see the way that the fillets are cut, most people prefer to eat them skinless, and we retain only about a quarter.
She said that in addition to “consumer preferences” affecting the prices, “flathead fishing has been contracting since some time”.
According to a spokesman from Sydney-based retailer Manettas Seafood Market, which operates out the Sydney Fish Markets, the flathead is “one of most fluctuating fish in the market” due to the limited number of Australian anglers as well as the “wastage rate” when preparing fillets.
He said that the $80/kg is an anomaly in a market with “relatively equal” prices.
Ms. Papacosta agreed, saying that flathead prices are not only “not visible in the larger fish case” but also that the price of Fish is not increasing “at a pace that is faster than other proteins.”
Indeed, meat and seafood prices rose 1.8 percent in the 12 months to October 2023, while dairy products have increased 7.8 percent in the same period, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The overall inflation rate was 4.9 percent, but the prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose by 5.3 percent.
Flathead fillets at other retailers cost significantly less than Harris Farms.
Woolworths offers flathead fillets that are freshly skinned, trimmed, and deboned for only $48/kg. Coles sells Birds’ Eye pre-crumbed, frozen South Atlantic Flathead Fillets for up to $40/kg. ALDI doesn’t sell flathead fillets.
Fishme.com.au reports that market fishmongers are charging upwards of $16.95/kg for wild-caught frozen fillets.
Ms Papacosta, in her role as Managing director of Fish in the Family (a Sydney-based seafood distributor company founded and run by the Papacosta Family since 1976), downplayed the negatives surrounding the $80 flathead at Harris Farms.
Most people would agree that prices are relatively stable. She said, “I think other proteins have been affected more.”
I think people understand the importance of fishing and producing Fish.
“I believe they will recognize this as an outlier, and that most of the fish species are quite stable in comparison to other proteins and beef.”
She said that it was “sad,” but it is true that buying flathead filets can be expensive for some people. However, she said those who wanted the Fish would buy it no matter what the cost.
People who buy it insist on it. “But there are alternatives that can do the job in the recipe or plate,” she said.
“That is the greatest strength of seafood. It’s not only getting a new cut of meat but a completely different species.”