Low loonie means P.E.I. seafood fetches premium prices in Toronto
'Business is still good, the margins are just smaller,' says fishmonger John Bil
If you're selling Maritime seafood these days, the low Canadian loonie is good news.
But if you're one of John Bil's customers at Honest Weight Fish Shop and Lunch Counter on Toronto's trendy Dundas West, you might be grumbling about escalating prices for your lobster and Malpeque oysters.
"We are paying a premium — last year it was 87 cents per oyster, now it's $1.10 to $1.15 depending on grade," he said.
You have limited availability and you're selling to the highest bidder.— John Bil, Honest Weight
"For even the standard Malpeque oyster, it's a 20 per cent increase."
Bil — a respected seafood expert who shucked his way to the top — spent some time on the other end of the low loonie when he was part of P.E.I.'s industry 15 years ago.
"There's good and bad to it," he offered. "Overall, as a country that exports, mostly it's probably good."
'Nothing we can do about it'
It's the cost of doing business, he said, when the Canadian dollar is low, pumping up demand from seafood suppliers south of the border, who are snapping up snapper for a bargain.
He absorbs some of the pain, but is forced to pass some along to customers as well.
"So now any oysters that are coming to Toronto or Montreal, same with halibut or scallops, it's a perfect storm," said Bil.
"You have limited availability and you're selling to the highest bidder ... We're seeing a steady increase in the price and there's nothing we can do about it."
On Thursday, Honest Weight had three different P.E.I. oysters on ice: the traditional wild Malpeque oyster and two premium varieties, Capcumpec Bay and South Lake.
Feeding customers an explanation
"People in general want to pay the least they can," said Bil.
"If they give us the opportunity to explain why, they are understanding."
Customers may purchase fewer oysters to save some cash, he said, adding that people might start to re-think such luxury purchases and "rein in their spending" if prices stay high.
Bil's restaurant was voted one of the best new restaurants of 2015 by The Globe and Mail.