SINGAPORE: Fishmonger Mr Lee Yit Huat used to clear his daily fish stock ahead of closing time. But these days, with rising prices putting off some customers, he often still has about 10 per cent of his daily offerings left on the counter at 7pm, when his stall at Tekka Market winds down.
Spanish mackerel, known locally as batang, used to cost between S$15 and S$20 per kilogramme at Mr Lee’s stall two months ago. Today, the price of this popular fish commonly used in soup and porridge has risen by S$5 to between S$20 and S$25.
As a result, Mr Lee is seeing a 5 per cent to 10 per cent decrease in customer numbers, as well as smaller portions purchased.
“No choice, now the economy also not very good. So everyone will buy less, buy a bit, don't buy a lot,” said Mr Lee. “Sometimes I tell them the price, (and they reply) ‘So expensive, I don't eat today,’ or ‘I eat some other small fish, cheaper’,” said Mr Lee.
Average prices for fresh fish from Malaysia and Indonesia have risen by about 20 per cent so far this year. Industry players are expecting prices to continue increasing over the next few months, as the monsoon season shrinks supply, and the upcoming holiday period intensifies demand.
CLIMATE, FUEL, INFLATION PUSH UP COSTS
"Fishermen today tend to get less fish,” said Mr Eric Lee, owner of Lee Chuan Seng Fishery. “There's less fish in the sea nowadays; (it's) getting less and less, you can see it's quite obvious.”
A dwindling catch from commercial fishing has made the situation worse, with fisheries citing climate change as a contributor to the unpredictable supply.
“Nowadays it’s difficult to predict the harvest. Maybe due to global warming. It used to be certain month you get certain fish, but nowadays we can’t predict,” said Mr Daniel Pe, chairman of the Punggol Fish Merchants Association.
Costs were made even higher for Indonesian fishermen this month when fuel prices, already soaring since the Ukraine war, were hiked by about 30 per cent as the government reined in energy subsidies.
“If the monsoon is too strong, (the fishermen) don’t go out so they don’t waste the diesel. When the monsoon comes, we cannot get fish,” said Mr Lee, who added that this contributes to rising expenses as merchants still have to cover utilities and manpower costs, but have lesser fish to sell.
Some consumers have turned to cheaper options, such as frozen or farmed fish. Inflation is more obvious in more expensive fish as the price difference seems substantial, said Alfred Goh, owner of Guang's Fresh Mart.
“Over a long period of time you realise there's been a significant increase in prices. This is probably worse off for hot ticket items like snapper, mackerel, cod and salmon. Those have seen much greater, more significant increase in prices as compared to cheaper fishes like kembong, kuning, and seabass,” said Mr Goh.
At Mr Goh’s shop, salmon now sells for between S$30 and S$40 per kilogramme, about S$10 more expensive than before, while cod costs almost S$50 per kilogramme, compared to close to S$40 in the past.
“So you do see consumers shifting towards cheaper varieties of fish. Because I think during these days where it's global inflation, everyone's feeling the pinch,” said Mr Goh.
FISHMONGERS, TOO, FEEL THE PINCH
Fishmongers at Geylang Serai Market told reporters that they have been placing fewer orders for more expensive varieties such as red snapper, which can cost around S$12 per kilogramme. Instead, they have been placing more orders for cheaper options like the Indian mackerel, which costs around S$7 per kilogramme.
“Fish supply has been really unstable as of late, prices fluctuate from day to day,” said Mr Goh. “For items that are more expensive, everyone just orders less of it. If you go around the markets, all the fishmongers are ordering in larger quantities cheaper items.”
Mr Goh said that some businesses absorb rising costs in the initial stages, but transfer the costs to consumers once it is no longer sustainable.
“We've been absorbing the increasing costs in terms of delivery, right along the supply chain, and to a point where it’s no longer affordable. And then we have to revise our prices up to take into account all of these rising (expenses),” said Mr Goh.
With some suppliers asking merchants for a 15 per cent to 20 per cent rise in prices to even out fuel costs, some in the industry are adapting by diversifying their sources for fish and looking to suppliers from other countries such as Thailand, India, and Myanmar, said Mr Pe.
PRICES ON UPTREND UNTIL CHINESE NEW YEAR
As the monsoon season approaches, fish prices are expected to climb even higher, up to after the holiday period in late January, industry players said.
“If the rainy season persists, and I mean, you know we're experiencing global warming, weather's really unstable. So if it does persist, then we do expect prices to go up, I think potentially by another 10 to 15 per cent probably over the next two months,” said Mr Goh.
The price of white snapper is forecast to increase about 10 per cent over the monsoon period, with mackerel likely to see a higher jump of about 30 per cent, said Mr Lee.
“Once the monsoon season is over, it’s the holiday season. So since demand during the year-end is likely to be better, prices probably won't go down,” said Mr Goh.
“Once the New Year is over, I think maybe once Chinese New Year is over in late January, then you generally start to see prices dipping.”
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