The dipping temperatures have caused fish to migrate to the warmer deep-sea waters, and the resultant crisis in fish supply has forced restaurateurs to increase prices, or scrap dishes on their menu altogether 
The sudden nip in the air and the freezing winter winds have taken the fish population lining the city's coast miles into the warmer heart of the sea. And these winds of change have brought about quite an unfortunate reversal of fortune for restaurateurs and fish-lovers across the city. Hit hard by the grinding crisis of seafood supply and a proportionate escalation of prices, popular seafood joints in the city have been forced to make commensurate changes to their menu, both in terms of content and price. Paying the price for these unforeseen changes -- quite literally -- is the city's large fish-loving population.

Fretting over pomfret: The price of a pair of pomfrets in some markets
has touched a whopping Rs 2,000. Pic/Suresh KK.

Fish prices have trebled in the past few weeks, as the dipping mercury has made most of the marine population seek the warmer temperatures of deeper waters. As a result, not only have food joint owners been forced to revise rates for some of the elusive species of fish, they have even had to scrap certain variants from their menu altogether. 

"The market is experiencing a grinding shortfall in fish supply. Vendors have been quoting very high prices, even for species that usually come cheap. Recently, we had to hike our menu rates, and with fish prices reaching the skies, we have no choice but to bear the burden. We can share the costs with customers only to a certain extent, after which we have no choice but to bear the cost.

"Pomfret that was available at the rate of Rs 900 per kg now costs Rs 1,700, and even more on days. No customer would pay Rs 1,200 for pomfret curry, so we have to bear some of the cost, and compromise on our profit margin," said Santosh Singh, manager of operations at Gazalee, a well-known seafood joint in Andheri.

Singh continued, "Crabs are not available at all in the market, and even if they are, they are sold at exorbitant prices. Our patrons are disappointed when we tell them that crab is not available on the menu. We purchase fresh fish every day, but in the present scenario, even frozen fish is difficult to come by. We have no choice but to inform our guests that their dish is not available on the menu."

Gazalee usually boasts about 10 crab dishes and nine pomfret dishes on its menu.

Cutting their losses
Other notable fish eateries like Mahesh Lunch Home in Fort have had to cut their losses by revising rates for the dishes on offer. "As we are purchasing fish at a very high prices every day, we have no choice but to increase the menu rates by 10 to 15 per cent. We will have to bear the burden till the situation is brought under control. This is the first time we have experienced such a prolonged and sustained shortage of fish," said Sundar Poojary, manager at Mahesh Lunch Home, Fort.

Pomfret curry, which was earlier served up for Rs 250 at the restaurant, is now sold for Rs 300. So too surmai curry - which cost Rs 180 earlier - is now available for Rs 200.

Portion control
A chef on the rolls of one of the city's leading seafood restaurants said, "Whenever the price of fish goes up, we either share the cost with the customer, or compromise on the portions of fish meat served. If customers ask us, we admit the real reason."