British Columbia

How B.C. halibut became more expensive than Angus beef tenderloin

Thanks to a low supply of fresh halibut across the province, the surf may now cost a lot more than the turf in your restaurant.

2014 saw the lowest number of halibut caught in over two decades.

This white fish may cost you more than red meat due to its low supply. (Getty Images)

Supply and demand has led to a major increase in the price of halibut in B.C. With the abundance of halibut available across the province going down, pricing has skyrocketed over the last decade making the fish more expensive than some prized meat cuts.

Ten years ago, the price of halibut in Prince Rupert averaged under $12 per pound. Now, that price has shot up to $27 per pound across the city.

"The most expensive thing on my menu is halibut. It's more money than beef tenderloin," says Willy Beaudry, the executive chef at the Crest Restaurant in Prince Rupert.

"If you're charging 23 bucks for fish and chips it sound like a rip off, but [customers] don't understand I'm paying more for that halibut than that tenderloin."

It's a common issue for fish markets as well.

"I've never ever seen such an increase, but I totally expected it," says Charmaine Carlson, the owner of Dolly's Fish Market in Prince Rupert.

Carlson attributes the high prices to the current fishing quota allowance in place for fishermen.

"If the halibut fishermen can't make money, do you think they're going to fish?"

In December of 2011, the International Pacific Halibut Commission — which manages the fishery for both Canada and the United States — was told that adult flatfish were disappearing from the population at unexplainable rates. While the exact cause for the drop in numbers is unconfirmed, theories range from overfishing, to illegal fishing, and ocean acidification.

The decrease in halibut numbers has led to a natural quota decrease, which in turn has affected the supply. Last year, the lowest amount of halibut was caught since 1980.

"If you take a look at when the peak total allowable catch was about a decade ago,  the catches were more than double what they are now," says Brad Mireau, the manager of Aero Trading fish plant in Port Edward, B.C.

Aero Trading is associated to a Japanese company which gives it access to many fish markets in Japan further increasing the competition for halibut here in B.C.

For chef Beaudry, the lack of halibut is cause for concern given Prince Rupert's reputation as an internationally recognized seafood city.

"Without our fresh halibut, we've lost our seafood edge."

To hear more, click the audio labelled: How B.C. halibut became more expensive than beef tenderloin.

With files from George Baker


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