A wave of seafood shortages has hit suppliers this month, prompting warnings of "unheard of" price hikes for some species come Easter.
Good Friday favourites, such as wild-caught prawns, Sydney rock oysters and Tasmanian salmon, have each been affected by a combination of wild weather, COVID-related labour shortages and rising overseas demand.
"It's like the perfect storm," says Peter Manettas, founder of Sydney retailer Manettas Seafood, which delivers across NSW and Victoria.
"There's a huge shortage of everything at the moment, so it's 100 per cent a possibility that Easter shoppers may not be able to find what they're looking for."
Heavy rain has relentlessly battered the eastern seaboard, muddying waters and preventing the harvest of many Sydney rock oysters.
Julius Lobb, the business direction manager of Melbourne wholesaler Clamms Seafood, says there were three weeks when they struggled to source a single rock oyster.
If you wait until Good Friday you're at the mercy of the gods.Peter Manettas
"With the amount of rain still hitting the east coast there may be no rock oysters at Easter," he says. "We just have to take each day as it comes."
Some catchments remained unaffected by the run-off, such as Nelson Lake on the NSW far South Coast.
"Most of the estuaries on the far South Coast are lake systems, rather than river systems, and they tend to fare a little better," says producer Gary Rodely, who farms bivalves in Nelson Lake under the Tathra Oysters brand.
"But places with big catchments, where they grow oysters in rivers, are more vulnerable to flood waters," he says. "It's really up in the Northern Rivers where they've had the worst impact. A lot of those farms have lost not only their oysters, but a lot of their infrastructure has been washed out to sea, as well."
Rodely says the rock oysters that make it to market will be harvested "under the very strongest quality assurance program", but cautions the drop in water salinity caused some oysters to spawn.
"Directly after a spawning, the condition is a little bit down," he says.
Lobb says the increased demand is expected to lead to oyster prices rising by up to $2 per dozen by Easter, depending on the grade.
Oyster-lovers need not despair too much, however, as the larger Pacific oyster species, mostly grown in South Australia and Tasmania, is expected to be in prime condition.
"Almost all of the Pacific oyster farming regions have remained unaffected by this weather," says Sydney Fish Market's resident seafood expert and tour guide Alex Stollznow.
"They'll be readily available and probably 50 to 70 cents cheaper per oyster than Sydney rocks."
While Stollznow says wild-caught prawns thrive in wet-weather conditions, Lobb reports heavy rain hasn't allowed as many boats to cross over the sand bars to catch them.
"There's a massive shortage of wild-caught prawns, especially with the larger grades," Lobb says, explaining he's been unable to find the "extra-extra large" king prawns, which weigh in at 12 prawns per kilogram.
"Prices soared on all large grade wild-caught prawns. Anything above [20 prawns per kilogram]."
Stollznow says school prawns could offer a solid alternative, as "Australia's sweetest and most tender prawn".
"They're the most local prawns to Sydney, with catches as close as the Hawkesbury river," he says.
Tasmanian salmon is expected to be the hardest hit this Easter season, with wholesalers reporting a "dramatic" 20 per cent price rise since the start of the year.
"There's a large demand for Australian salmon overseas," says Manettas. "The challenge for us is getting the stock at the moment. Most wholesalers have cut back quite dramatically on salmon supply ... In all honesty, I believe this is the highest priced salmon I've ever seen."
The good news is there's likely to be plenty of white-fleshed, whole-fish alternatives for the Easter table centrepiece.
High quality blue-eye trevalla, snapper, ocean perch, gurnard and rock flathead are all expected to be available in abundance, but Stollznow cautions shoppers to keep an open mind.
"I must urge against the temptation to pick a [particular] species because you can get blinkered and end up making a less than optimal decision," he says.
"You must remain agile, be flexible and wherever possible, buy something Australian. We have 5000 commercial marine species, it's our true wealth, and the better we learn to utilise all of them, the better off we all are."
Blue-eye trevalla is expected to be in abundance (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem
Easter seafood delivered to your door
Seafood delivery services rose to prominence during the height of the pandemic, offering end-to-end tracking and refrigeration to ensure fresh and fast shipments.
While there's nothing quite like a chat with your local fishmonger to get insider information on the day's best catch, delivery services offer a viable alternative for those unable to brave the busy markets.
Pre-orders for Easter have opened now. Lobb, of Clamms Seafood, says pre-orders allow him to coordinate with producers ahead of time, and increase the chances of shoppers getting the specific species they want.
"If you wait until Good Friday you're at the mercy of the gods, you don't know what's going to be there when you turn up at the markets," Manettas says.
"Seafood can be fickle. It's weather dependent, and we don't want to see people disappointed this Easter."
The cut-off time for Good Friday orders varies between two to three days before Easter, depending on the supplier, and deliveries are expected to go out on Thursday.
"We normally do next-day delivery, depending on the area, but as we move into the busy period we need at least 48 hours' notice so we can have everything ready to go," Lobb says.
Clamms Seafood services Victoria. Minimum order $100.
1/2 Somerville Road, Yarraville, Victoria, 03 9689 6322, shop.clammsonline.com.au
The Fishmongers Son services metropolitan Melbourne. Minimum order $60.
703 Nicholson Street, Carlton North, Victoria, 1300 851 343, yourgrocer.com.au/info/retailers/the-fishmongers-son
Oceania Seafoods Select services greater Melbourne. Minimum order $60 or $100 for delivery 20 kilometres outside Melbourne CBD.
8/107 Whitehall Street, Footscray, Victoria, osselect.com.au
GetFish services metropolitan Sydney. Minimum order $100.
Sydney Fish Markets, corner Pyrmont Bridge Road and Bank Street, Pyrmont, NSW, 02 9660 8332, getfish.com.au
Nicholas Seafood Traders services metropolitan Sydney. Minimum order for Easter period $80.
Sydney Fish Markets, corner Pyrmont Bridge Road and Bank Street, Pyrmont, NSW, 02 9660 4255, nicholasseafood.com.au
Claudio's Seafoods services metropolitan Sydney. Minimum order $100.
Sydney Fish Markets, corner Pyrmont Bridge Road and Bank Street, Pyrmont, NSW, 02 9660 5188, claudiosseafood.com.au
Manettas Seafood services NSW, ACT, southern QLD and Victoria. Minimum order $40.
Level 3/55 Pyrmont Bridge Road, Pyrmont, NSW, 1300 095 746, manettas.com.au