BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – The cost of seafood is rising at Alabama restaurants and fish markets as rising fuel prices make it more expensive to transport produce from the Gulf Coast.
Some restaurants in the area have already had to change menu prices several times over the past year to keep up with inflation and transportation costs.
At The Fish Market restaurant in Birmingham, owner George Sarris said he was paying more than double the price for red snapper, an Alabama favorite.
“In 2021, let’s say for snapper, we’re paying about $5.30, whole fish, come inshore, right now it’s 11.95,” Sarris said.
For nearly 40 years, Sarris has been serving up some of Magic City’s most sought-after seafood, but has never seen such high prices.
“This year, if it goes like this, we’re not going to make any money, which is good. We’re blessed. We’re going to keep our doors open. But what will it do to other restaurants? who haven’t been there for 30 years?” asked Sarris.
There is a lot that goes into the price of fresh fishing. At Capeside Fish Company and Market in Rainbow City, co-owner Dennis Deason and his son shop weekly for the produce his customers are addicted to.
“Actually, we’re heading to the Gulf Coast. We are heading towards Biloxi. We’re going to start there and get red snapper today, then head to Louisiana to get crawfish, then back to Bayou La Batre for oysters,” Deason said.
Deason’s son also travels to the Carolina coast to buy and sell fish.
“As we go from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast and back, we’re spending thousands more dollars a week and it adds up,” Deason said.
At over $5.50 a gallon, the diesel powers more than Deason’s 26-foot truck fills it to the fullest. Fuel also helps keep produce cool.
“When it’s hot like today, the refrigeration works harder and it also burns diesel,” Deason said.
After restaurants have already battled the pandemic, owners are now forced to pass on rising costs to customers without making items too expensive.
“Some clientele will pay that, but you’re also eliminating a lot of your clientele that just can’t afford to pay that for food,” Deason said.
At Birmingham’s Fish Market Restaurant, Sarris brings food from as far away as Miami and Boston. He doesn’t know if or when prices will stabilize, but also thinks greed is part of the problem.
“The almighty dollar has become a bit of our God and we have become greedy as a nation,” Sarris said.
Deason said rising fuel prices have also prevented some fishermen and oystercatchers from doing normal business, citing a text from one of his suppliers on the coast.
“Half of its oyster farmers decided not to fish anymore, the harvest was so low they couldn’t make up for the rising fuel prices and the same is happening with crab, shrimp and red snapper,” Deason said.