FAO/GIEWS - Food Outlook July/August/September 1997

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Preliminary data indicate that in 1996 the fish catch exceeded somewhat the record 113 million tons reached in 1995. China continues to be the major world fish producer with a catch of 25 million tons in 1996, more than 50 percent of which comes from the expanding inland aquaculture industry. In the Russian Federation, after the sharp decline prompted by economic changes and the consequent restructuring of the fishing industry, fish production recovered further in 1996. The Japanese catch was further reduced in 1996, due to problems experienced by its sardine sector.


1994 1995 1996 prelim.

(. . . . . . million tons . . . . . .)
China 20.7 24.4 25.0
Peru 11.6 9.0 9.6
Chile 7.8 7.2 6.9
Japan 7.4 6.8 6.6
United States 5.9 6.0 5.9
India 4.5 4.9 5.1
Indonesia 3.9 4.0 4.2
Russian Fed. 3.8 4.2 4.6
Others 44.0 46.5 45.3
TOTAL 109.6 113.0 113.2



Latest estimates put the world shrimp production in 1996 at 3 million tons. Farmed shrimp production declined in 1996 due to disease problems. Thailand remained the world's top producer although production fell sharply to 160 000 tons, from about 20 000 farms, down from 220 000 tons in 1995. Disease also hit farms in Indonesia and Viet Nam, resulting in reduced output in 1996. Both China and India maintained production levels at around 80 000 tons and 70 000 tons respectively. Farms in Bangladesh were not affected by the virus and production was some 35 000 tons. In the western hemisphere, Ecuador was the main producer, with an output of 120 000 tons out of a regional total of 200 000 tons. The Latin American region produced 10 percent more cultured shrimp in 1996 than in 1995.

1996 was characterized by an over-supply of cold-water shrimp Pandalus borealis. This was mainly due to increased catches by Icelandic trawlers in the Flemish Cap, and as a result, prices of cold-water shrimp fell sharply during the course of the year, and by December 1996, were 23 percent lower than at the same time a year earlier. Prices continued to fall in the opening months of 1997. The Icelandic shrimp catch reached a new record in 1996, when 89 000 tons were landed, up from 83 600 tons in 1995. It is expected that the Icelandic shrimp catch will decline in 1997, as the Icelandic Minister of Fisheries has set a lower shrimp quota.

The overall shortage in shrimp supplies was reflected in lower imports into Japan and the United States. In 1996 Japan's shrimp imports fell back to 289 000 tons, compared to volumes in excess of 300 000 tons in 1993 and 1994. The decline in imports is due to the overall bleak market situation on the Japanese market in 1996, when traders were unwilling to pay for the high prevailing prices. The main supplier to the Japanese market continued to be Indonesia, despite the problems reported in its shrimp aquaculture industry. The disease problem experienced by the Thai producers caused a dramatic drop in its exports to the Japanese market.

Economic growth in the United States combined with the high value of the U.S. dollar created a very good environment for shrimp consumption and demand in this country. However, supplies were unable to satisfy demand and prices were high throughout 1996 and the first half of 1997. The United States' imports of shrimp in 1996 decreased for the second year in succession to 264 000 tons, 3 percent less than in 1995 and 8 percent less than in 1994. Thailand continues to be the main exporting country to the United States market, but reported lower sales in 1996. The three main suppliers to the United States market all reported lower exports in 1996 than in 1995: Thailand -7 percent, Ecuador -8.5 percent, and Mexico -7 percent.

Both the United Kingdom and France reported higher shrimp imports in 1996. For the United Kingdom, the increase in imports was a substantial 12 percent. This expansion came exclusively from a 30 percent increase in cooked and peeled cold-water shrimp imports from Iceland. However, this boom in cooked and peeled cold-water shrimp has created an oversupply on the market which is far from being absorbed.

Shrimp production was low in the first half of 1997. Diseases problems continue to affect supplies in the main shrimp culturing countries. In some countries, the legislation might limit shrimp culture in the coming months. The United States is the driving force on the world shrimp market, while demand in Japan has been rather bleak, with the only exception being during the Golden Week. For the coming months some declines in price levels are forecast, as cold-water shrimp should be in ample supply.

In 1996, Japanese imports of tuna reached 326 000 tons, slightly down from the 333 000 tons imported in 1995. Yellowfin imports recovered somewhat in 1996, after sharp reductions in 1994 and 1995. On the other hand, bigeye imports were somewhat reduced after the 1995 boom. This situation indicates that bigeye is used as a substitute for yellowfin supply in the sashimi market. Taiwan (Province of China) continues to be the major exporter to the Japanese market, despite a 7 percent drop in its exports in 1996 to some 96 000 tons, 6 percent down from 1995 and 33 percent less than in the peak year 1993.

The bleak demand for canned tuna in the United States, combined with the problems of UNICORD, which used to be the main supplying company from Thailand, led to the decline in the United States canned tuna imports in 1996 to 88 000 tons, 10 000 tons less than in 1995, and far below the peak of 160 000 tons reached in 1991. Thailand continues to be the main supplier to the United States, although its exports dropped by 26 percent in 1996. United States canned tuna consumption declined in 1996 by 5 percent to 2 kg per head.

Several plants for production of tuna loins have opened in Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, which are supplying the United States and European markets. Tuna loin imports into the United States increased sharply in 1996, to 40 000 tons, compared to 35 500 tons in 1995. In aggregate frozen tuna imports by the United States rose to 188 000 tons in 1996 from 180 000 tons in 1995. Taiwan (Province of China) is the main frozen tuna exporter to the United States market, with a 40 percent market share: the main species exported is albacore. Reflecting the boom in the loin business, Ecuadorian exports of tuna to the United States market doubled to reach 10 000 tons in 1996.

Tuna catches were very disappointing in both the Indian and Pacific Ocean in the second quarter of 1997. As a result, prices for both skipjack and yellowfin went up on the world market, and further increases are foreseen for the coming months. Prices of skipjack in Thailand rose to a high of U.S.$ 1 300 per ton in July 1997, up from U.S.$ 850 per ton earlier this year. The canners have little stocks available at the moment, which will result in purchase of raw material at the high price and a passing on of the increased cost to the importers. Some countries are already looking for other sources of supply, with EC countries buying more and more from ACP countries, from which canned tuna can be imported duty-free. A major impact on the world tuna market is expected from the new dolphin-free pact. Tuna fishing will resume in the Eastern Pacific, and Mexican tuna will take a good share of the United States market.

Recent surveys of the world tuna fisheries show that in many areas the resource is close to fully fished or even over-fished. The Northern and Southern bluefin has been over-fished in the past and is now under stringent quota systems in most areas. In the Atlantic, the yellowfin and skipjack resource seems also over-fished, and too many small specimens are taken. The interested countries took measures to protect the resource by banning tuna catch for a certain period. In the Indian Ocean, it was noted, that while in the beginning of the purse seine fishing in these waters (mid 1980s) the share of big tuna in a net was very high, at present it is rare to find a big yellowfin in the catch, while the share of small tuna is increasing. Thus also in this area there is an indication of over-exploitation, and countries might start to take measures. The only area where the resource seems to be healthy, permitting further increases in catch is the Western Pacific, where more skipjack can be taken. For yellowfin, however, catches world-wide are expected to go down, and further price increases can be foreseen. This will have an impact on the consumption of tuna in those countries where yellowfin is the preferred species, such as Italy.

The world groundfish market was characterized in 1996 by a strong influx of Russian Alaska pollack at low prices. The Russian Federation exported 34 000 tons of Alaska pollack in 1996, 76 percent more than in 1995. As a result, cod prices also stayed low on both the United States and the European market in 1996, and are expected to remain low in the coming months reflecting increased supplies as the Norwegian and the Russian Federation fleets will try to fill their 850 000 ton quota. China has expanded its presence on the United States market for groundfish products even further in 1996, exporting some 36 800 tons, 20 percent more than in 1995 and 40 percent more than in 1994.

The catch of groundfish species has been halved in just ten years. Almost all groundfish stocks seem to be heavily fished or over-fished. The Alaska pollack resource continues to be stressed, as substantial quantities of pollack are taken illegally. The Argentine hake resource is under danger of over-fishing. On the other hand, prices of groundfish species are still relatively low, and are expected to go up only very slowly in the coming months.

China has become a major player on the cephalopod market over the past few years following continued investment in its high sea fleet. Chinese vessels are now starting to fish in the South Western Atlantic, which will result in additional squid supplies from this area. Apart from the Chinese fleet, all other fishing nations are reporting disappointing catches of cephalopods. Some fishing areas seem to be under severe stress - such as the octopus resource in the Central Eastern Atlantic. Prices of cephalopods are likely to increase in the coming months.

In Las Palmas earlier this year there was a fishing ban of two months (March-April 1997), in order to protect the octopus resource. After the ban was lifted, the octopus resource was still found to be exceptionally low, indicating that the species was under even greater stress than earlier estimated. Octopus prices on the world market remain high, although they have dropped somewhat from their exceptionally high level reached in the course of the second half of 1996.

With the liberalisation of the eastern European economies, seafood trade with western Europe has expanded rapidly. The Russian Federation and Poland have become important markets for frozen small pelagics such as herring and mackerel. Mackerel supplies were tight in 1996 and prices reached record levels. Mackerel supplies are expected to remain tight in 1997 but supplies of herring are expected to increase.

The main suppliers of mackerel to the buoyant eastern Europe markets are Norway and Ireland. Ireland is the largest exporter to the Russian Federation, whereas Norway dominates sales to Poland. Exports to these countries have been steadily increasing over the past few year's despite the reduced catch of Atlantic mackerel in 1996 and sharply higher prices. Also, Atlantic mackerel is preferred over horse mackerel, despite its much higher price. The market has been influenced, however, by a much reduced Norwegian catch of horse mackerel in 1996 of 16 000 tons, compared to normal levels of 95 000-130 000 tons (1993-1995).

Whereas all the mackerel sold to the Russian Federation is sold round or block-frozen, herring is imported in three varieties: round-frozen, salted herring and fillets (flaps). The major market is in round-frozen herring and Norway's exports alone reached almost 100 000 tons in 1996. The second important herring product is salted herring. This is a traditional export product of Norway and Iceland, but the current trend in eastern Europe is to import frozen herring and salt it domestically as this costs less than buying the already salted product. In the Russian Federation, however, this was not the case as the overall shortfall in fish supplies led to an increase in salted herring imports as well. This trend was broken in 1996, when salted herring imports from Norway dropped to 9 500 tons, down from 14 660 tons in 1995.

Poland is the largest market for herring fillets or flaps and imported almost 50 000 tons from Norway alone in 1996. Round herring imports reached 31 000 tons from Norway in 1996 and salted herring imports 3 700 tons. With rising Norwegian catches of herring increased imports of herring are expected at the expense of mackerel. In Poland there is some substitution between the products, not only because the importers and processors deal in both species but also because the consumer can easily switch between different smoked products and marinades.

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