FAO/GIEWS - Food Outlook No.1 - February 2001 p. 11

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Fish and Fisheries Products


Total world fish production (capture plus aquaculture) in 1999 is estimated at a record 124.4 million tonnes, a significant recovery from the previous year's reduced production of 117.4 million tonnes. The decline in 1998 was due primarily to decreased catches of small pelagics fisheries in South America, particularly in Peru, caused by the "El Niño" phenomenon. Of the total world production in 1999, fish capture accounted for 92.1 million tonnes. Despite the recovery of the Peruvian fisheries after the negative impact of the "El Niño" in the previous year, this was still 1.3 million tonnes short of the 1997 record capture of 93.6 million tonnes. Aquaculture production continued to expand in 1999, reaching 32.3 million tonnes, or 26 percent of total fisheries production, compared to a share of just 15 percent in 1990.

China is now by far the top producer of fish with some 39 million tonnes in 1999. Peru recovered its second position among the main producing countries, increasing catches in 1999 by 90 percent from the reduced 1998 level. Japan was the third major fishing nation in 1999 with catches of 5.9 million tonnes.

Fishery Production1/

  1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 provisional
  (. . . . . . . . . . . . . 000 tonnes . . . . . . . . . . .)
China 28 418 31 897 35 038 38 025 39 300
Peru 8 943 9 522 7 877 4 346 8 437
Japan 6 787 6 765 6 723 6 026 5 935
Chile 7 591 6 909 6 084 3 558 5 325
India 4 906 5 258 5 379 5 244 5 244
USA 5 638 5 395 5 422 5 154 5 154
Indonesia 4 139 4 291 4 454 4 595 4 797
Russian Federation 4 374 4 730 4 715 4 518 4 210
Thailand 3 573 3 562 3 430 3 470 3 541
Norway 2 802 2 960 3 223 3 259 3 052
Others 39 39 40 39 39
World total 116 129 120 294 122 448 117 399 124 448

Total world imports of fish products expanded in 1999 in value terms to reach a record of US$57 600 million. Developed countries accounted for more than 80 percent of the total. Japan was again the biggest importer of fishery products, accounting for some 25 percent of the global total, though a substantial decline from the 30 percent share that this country used to have. Japan's imports of fish and fishery products have declined due to economic recession. The EC further increased its dependency on imports for its fish supply. The share of the EC in the value of world imports increased to 35 percent. The United States, besides being the world's fourth major exporting country, was the second biggest importer of fish products in 1999.

Thailand and Norway are the world's major exporters of fish products in value terms, accounting for 16 percent each of total world trade. The increase in net earnings of foreign exchange by developing countries - deducting their imports from the total value of their exports - is impressive, rising from US$5 200 million in 1985 to US$15 600 million in 1999. For many developing nations, fish trade represents a significant source of foreign currency earnings.

The world market for fishery products in 2000 was characterized by an overall growth in demand while supplies tightened. Demand for fish is on an upward trend in the United States and Europe, while in Japan, demand is declining as the younger population moves to more westernized food patterns. In the EC, the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) scare affecting the meat industry led to a boom in fish consumption in the latter part of the year, and prices rose accordingly. However, growing demand is not matched by an increase in supply. On the contrary, wild fish stocks show signs of sharp declines due to over-exploitation, especially for groundfish species. Prices for all main fish commodities are expected to move up in 2001.

Review by Commodity

Shrimp is the world's most important fish commodity accounting for about 20 percent of international trade in value terms. The EC, Japan and the United States are the world's major importers of shrimp. Their combined imports expanded further in 1999 to reach 950 000 tonnes up from 900 000 tonnes in 1998. Increased imports by Japan and the United States more than offset a decline in the EC.

In the EC, the world's major importing region, shrimp imports declined by about 10 000 tonnes in 1999 to an estimated 372 000 tonnes. The decrease was principally due to the weakness of the Euro but also reflected the crisis of the Ecuadorian shrimp industry, normally a major supplier to the EC. Both of these factors continued to affect the EC shrimp market in 2000. By contrast, Japan's shrimp imports recovered somewhat in 1999 to 247 000 tonnes, but this level was nevertheless well below the almost 300 000 tonnes imported annually in the mid-1990s. The economic crisis was the main reason for the decline in 1997 and 1998. The United Sates has been the main driving force on the world shrimp market in the past few years, its imports increasing from 275 000 tonnes in 1998 to 330 000 tonnes in 1999.

Shrimp aquaculture output in 2000 was lower than in 1999, due to reduced production in Latin America. Ecuador, which used to be the second major aquaculture producer, continued to have disease problems and its production in 2000 is estimated to have been cut by a staggering 100 000 tonnes, or about 90 percent of its normal production before the crisis. These lower supplies in a general climate of strong demand - the economic crisis in Asia seems to be finally over - led to higher international shrimp prices in the second half of 2000.

In the United States, a slow-down in economic growth in late 2000 is expected to lead to a decline in demand for shrimp in the coming months. Year-end demand for shrimp in the EC was good, as shrimp played an important role in the Christmas and New Year festive period celebrations. However, the weak Euro led to increased prices in the EC market for all main tropical species, where European traders have to compete with Japanese and United States buyers. With continued strong demand expected in Japan in the coming months, and supplies from the aquaculture industry still limited, substantial increases in shrimp prices are expected in the course of 2001.

Tuna catches increased further in 1999, by about 400 000 tonnes, to reach an estimated 4 million tonnes, continuing an upward trend in the past few years. The main tuna catching nations are concentrated in Asia, with Japan and Taiwan Province of China being the main producers. Other important tuna catching nations in Asia are Indonesia and the Republic of Korea. In Europe, Spain and France are important tuna fishing countries, mainly catching in the Indian Ocean, while the United States tuna fleet, which had experienced setbacks in recent years, is regaining importance.

Skipjack is by far the main species caught, and catches increased by 80 percent over the past decade. There is even potential for further expansion in the future. In fact, skipjack accounts for most of the increase in the total catch of 1999. Yellowfin is the second major tuna species, also growing in importance in recent years, but at a slower path than skipjack. This species is generally higher priced than skipjack. Bigeye catches have also increased in recent years while Albacore catches have remained relatively stable.

Though tuna catches were not as large in 2000 as in the preceding year, prices declined sharply in May 2000, to US$400 per tonne, and stayed on that level until end of the year. The main canneries were fully supplied, especially in the United States and Europe. As price levels were below operation costs in the second half of 2000, boat owners agreed on a fishing stop in December 2000. However, prices stayed low and are not expected to increase until shortages are felt on the market which could be later in 2001.

The groundfish market remains generally depressed. Following a brief tightening of supplies in early 2000 which caused prices to strengthen somewhat, a sudden oversupply of Alaska Pollack once again flooded the market mid-year pressuring prices downward for all groundfish species.

The Norwegian groundfish industry is in a major crisis. The estimated size of the cod resource, which is the main species caught, is low, and prospects for recovery are poor. As a result, quotas have been reduced but prices remain low. In three years, the cod quota in the Barents Sea had to be lowered by 460 000 tonnes, with negative effects on the Norwegian and Russian Federation industry. Vessels from these countries are now mainly landing small cod, that means 3-4 year old, which also does not help in rebuilding the stock.

Cephalopod catches recovered in 1999, to about 3.5 million tonnes, after a sharp decline in the previous year due to oversupply and the negative impact of El Niño in the Eastern Pacific.

Squid, mainly Illex and Loligo - are by far the main species produced, accounting for about 1.7 million tonnes or 77 percent of total cephalopod catches and accounting for most of the year-to-year variations in cephalopod landings. Octopus is the second major cephalopod species produced accounting for about 300 000 tonnes of the annual catch. In recent years this catch has gone down due to conservation methods in the Eastern Central Atlantic. However, in 1999 catches of octopus were very high, as not all the catches are under stringent control. Cuttlefish catches have been about stable at 240 000 tonnes over the last decade, and no major changes are foreseen for the near future.

Japan continues to be the main cephalopod producing country, with catches fluctuating between 500 000 and 800 000 tonnes. In 1998, Japanese cephalopod catches hit a historical low of 450 000 tonnes, but recovered strongly in 1999. The second major producing country is the Republic of Korea with 310 000 tonnes in 1998, a significant decline from the 1997 production. Similarly to Japan, the Republic of Korea expanded its catches, especially in the South West Atlantic in 1999.

In the 2000 season, Illex production in the South West Atlantic was less than foreseen. Markets are experiencing a shortage of supply, after a year of over-supply and very low prices. Prices of squid are likely to increase strongly. Octopus supply was very strong, especially of Moroccan origin. Although demand and consumption of octopus expanded in Japan, price improvements are unlikely to occur in the coming months. Cuttlefish is in short supply, and prices are forecast to increase.

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