Globally, there are hundreds of different types of flatfish, among them the universally popular halibut, turbot, sole and flounder, and many important fisheries are based upon these prized species. Historically, though, one of the most commercially plentiful and sustainable varieties of flatfish is the somewhat lesser-known Pacific dab (also known as yellowfin sole – Limanda aspera).
Dab is a small, white flatfish that – like its other flatfish cousins – is packed with flavour. It has been especially valued for its versatility, being a very good alternative for species that have been becoming increasingly expensive in recent times. Indeed, dab rolls have long been a popular product with many of Pittman Seafoods’ customers, offering an affordable, high-quality alternative to Icelandic sole rolls, with the raw material sourced from a well-managed fishery. We were, in fact, largely responsible for the introduction of this particular seafood item into the European market.
Targeted by US and Canadian trawl vessels, the dab fisheries are managed under the Bering Strait and Aleutian Islands Groundfish Management Plan by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. As such, the stocks are subject to strict and enforced regulations and catch monitoring, and are assessed by independent fishery surveys.
Thanks to these successful longstanding management measures, Pacific dab populations are regarded as abundant and at or above historic levels, while the fishing effort is considered below the level that stocks are capable of supporting.
Most Pacific dab are frozen at sea with the actual roll production taking place in China. There, the processors take one or two fillets (three maximum), which they roll manually with the former skin-side reversed to be inside the roll. This provides the medallions with an attractive white colour, with each weighing between 40 and 60 grams.
Another popular product produced in China is the Pacific dab fillet, which is essentially a stretched fillet that is “married”, whereby two or three fillets are placed upon each other and manually formed into a portion weighing between 80 and 140 grams.
After the thawing and processing of the raw material, the resultant dab products are refrozen for end-markets.
DEMAND & SUPPLY
Despite the healthy state of Pacific dab stocks, the relatively unchanged catch together with unprecedented recent demand for the fish, largely due to its aforementioned versatility, have seen supplies stretched since spring 2017. Not only has this availability challenge left processing factories everywhere with depleted resources, but raw material prices have soared too.
At the same time, the production of dab rolls is regarded as labour-intensive, with the largest processor in China requiring six to eight weeks to produce just 20 tonnes of final product. Consequently, a number of manufacturers had already ceased their production of dab rolls, preferring instead to divert what raw material they have into the manufacture of much more time- and cost-effective items.
EXPLORING ALL AVENUES
Because fulfilling our customers’ needs is one of Pittman Seafoods’ central aims, we are continuing to monitor the raw material availability and China’s dab roll production situations very closely, and thanks to our longstanding partnerships, our suppliers are doing their very utmost to provide us with as much volume as possible.
Additionally, we are continuing to evaluate the potential to fill the dab roll void with other Pacific options, such as rock sole, yellow belly sole and yellowtail flounder, but these alternatives are comparatively more expensive species and are also limited in total allowable catch. For the time being, therefore, the overall Pacific dab roll supply is certain to remain heavily constrained.