CNY fish at $100 a kilo? Buyers still biting

Pomfret is a popular item for reunion dinners. At this market stall in Chinatown, they were $35 each. The silver pomfret - deemed the best-tasting of the breed and favoured for its auspicious name - is much pricier.
Pomfret is a popular item for reunion dinners. At this market stall in Chinatown, they were $35 each. The silver pomfret - deemed the best-tasting of the breed and favoured for its auspicious name - is much pricier.ST PHOTO: LIM YONG TECK

Popular seafood items, like the silver pomfret, likely to get pricier as holiday eve approaches

A fish popular at reunion dinners during Chinese New Year (CNY) is selling for up to $100 a kilogram at wet markets here, with prices expected to rise even higher as Chinese New Year's eve approaches.

The Chinese silver pomfret, or dou chang, is in demand during the festive season as it is deemed to be the best-tasting pomfret breed and favoured for its auspicious name.

People usually buy large silver pomfrets of 1 to 1½ kg for CNY as these better suit the large number of people at reunion dinners, said fishmongers. This means a fish can cost as much as $150.

Wholesale prices of the silver pomfret, normally $20 to $30 a kg, went up to $60 a kg last month.

Likewise, other types of seafood popular during the festive period have also become more costly.

Wholesale prices of seafood are expected to rise by 30 to 40 per cent throughout the New Year period this year, said Mr Goh Thiam Chwee, vice-president of the Singapore Fish Merchant's General Association.

Yesterday, The Straits Times visited three wet markets in Bedok, Chinatown and Toa Payoh and found seafood items, like grouper and tiger prawns, selling for up to $100 and $38 a kg, respectively.

At the markets, the silver pomfret was selling for $70 to $100 a kg.

But fishmongers interviewed said it can cost $120 a kg or even up to $200 a kg if the fish are of "very high quality", meaning that they have thick, meaty flesh and "incredible freshness". But such high-quality silver pomfret is out of stock.

"The freshness is the discerning factor in the price of the fish. People are very, very picky about the quality of the fish over the New Year period," said Mr Goh.

The freshest fish are usually those caught in Malaysia, which requires less time to reach ports here than those from other places, he said.

High demand for these fish in Malaysia's own markets over the festive period is another reason for its high selling price, he added.

Despite the jump in prices, many consider fish, especially popular ones like the silver pomfret, a must-have during Chinese New Year.

The Chinese words for fish and abundance (yu) sound similar.

"Dou chang is a must-have during Chinese New Year, no matter the price, because of the abundance it will bring to my business and family members," said Mrs Christine Lee, 54, owner of a clothing business.

Mr Tan Kin Soon, 58, who bought a red grouper at $100 a kg at a wet market in Jurong last week, said: "A 50 per cent price increase is still worth it. It's Chinese New Year and it's only once a year anyway."

Many fishmongers told The Straits Times that the prices of their seafood items will rise further, starting today.

But supermarkets like Giant and FairPrice told the paper that the prices of their seafood items will largely remain the same.

There are also more affordable options such as the rabbit fish, also favoured for its auspicious name, but sold at $10 to $35 per kg.

For some, the high price of the silver pomfret is part of its appeal.

Said housewife Lee Lai Fong, 47: "Because it is quite expensive, being able to eat this fish during the New Year means that we have made a good living this year."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2016, with the headline 'CNY fish at $100 a kilo? Buyers still biting'. Print Edition | Subscribe