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Spike in fish prices likely to continue in run-up to CNY

The Straits Times by REI KUROHI

A recent spike in the price of fish that is likely to continue with Chinese New Year just weeks away was partly the result of recent bad weather, which caused some shortages among Singapore's regular suppliers, fish sellers told The Straits Times.

Mr Lim Choon Yau, who represents wholesaler Song Fish Dealer, said fishermen in countries like Indonesia and Thailand have reported poor catches and unpredictable weather preventing them from fishing in recent weeks.

He said: "The price of Chinese pomfret has risen from about $30 to as much as $50 per kg. If the weather continues to be bad, who knows how high the price could rise?"

Mr Tay Peng Kiat, owner of Chip Hong (Pin Sin) Fishery, said stocks of other popular fishes like red grouper and threadfin have also been affected, and buyers can expect to be paying even more in the coming weeks.

Late last month, a tsunami in Indonesia's Sunda Strait killed hundreds of people and destroyed fishing boats. Last week, Tropical storm Pabuk caused floods in southern Thailand and killed at least one fisherman in Koh Samui.

Also contributing to the price increase is a bump in demand throughout the region. Because of higher domestic demand, the Malaysian authorities last month banned exports of seafood such as kembong (Indian mackerel), pelaling (short-bodied mackerel), selar (horse mackerel), salayang (sardines), bawal putih (silver pomfret), shrimp and prawn, until Feb 28.

Supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice said varieties of fish that are more popular during Chinese New Year, like red grouper, snapper, threadfin and pomfret, cost 10 to 15 per cent more now compared with last month.

A spokesman said: "Prices of popular products typically increase leading up to the festive period, as they are affected by market demand and external weather conditions."

FairPrice noted that prices of other food items like poultry and vegetables have remained stable.

PRICES CLIMBING

The price of Chinese pomfret has risen from about $30 to as much as $50 per kg. If the weather continues to be bad, who knows how high the price could rise?

MR LIM CHOON YAU, who represents wholesaler Song Fish Dealer. He said fishermen in countries like Indonesia and Thailand have reported poor catches and unpredictable weather preventing them from fishing in recent weeks.

Fishmonger Jeffrey Tan, who runs DishTheFish outlets at West Coast Plaza and Beo Crescent Market with his wife Angeline Ong, said on Friday that prices have risen about 35 per cent over what they were two weeks ago and are changing daily.

On Friday, Chinese pomfret at DishTheFish, sourced from Indonesia, was being sold for $38 to $45 a kilogram, depending on the size of the fish.

Indonesia is Singapore's largest supplier of fish, providing 23 per cent of all fish imports to the Republic in 2017, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

Red grouper at DishTheFish was going for $40 to $50 per kg.

Rabbitfish was being sold for around $15 to $25 per kg, but Mr Tan said he expected the price to double or triple in the two weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, which coincide with the fish's spawning season.

For a few days a year close to Chinese New Year, rabbitfish carry creamy roe or milt - the eggs and sperm of the fish - that are believed to bring good fortune.

Mr Tan said: "Two years ago, rabbitfish roe and milt hit $150 per kg on the first day of Chinese New Year."

Higher prices do not deter shoppers like Madam Catherine Chua, who often hosts reunion dinner for her extended family, and is used to paying more for fish during the Chinese New Year, she said.

The 70-year-old business owner said she plans to buy Chinese pomfret as usual despite the price.

"You know the Chinese saying, nian nian you yu," said Madam Chua, referring to a greeting that means "to have abundance each year". The Chinese word for abundance sounds like the word for fish.

"Reunion dinner is just once a year. Having fish is simply a must," she said.