Trade in fish

In 1997, fishery exports were worth some US$ 51 billion. This represented 10 percent of the value of agricultural exports and about 1 percent of total merchandise trade.

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Sorting prawns in Thailand for the lucrative export market
FAO/18560/R.Faidutti


Seychelles: Unloading frozen tuna
FAO/17423/H. Wagner


Nearly half of the fishery export trade originates in developing countries and is destined largely (85 percent of the total) for developed ones. This reflects the South's need for foreign exchange and the fact that fish production in northern countries is falling, while consumption is on the rise. There is little trade in food fishery products between developing countries.

Norway was the leading exporter in 1997 (6.6 percent of the total) followed by China, the United States, and Denmark (with more than 5 percent each) and Thailand - which was the leading exporter between 1993 and 1996. Japan is the leading importer. In fact, Japan, the United States and the European Community import 75 percent of traded fishery products, by value. Since fish is a highly perishable commodity, most of the international trade involves processed fish although live, fresh or chilled fish and shellfish are a small, but growing, element.

In value terms, frozen crustaceans - shrimp, crab and lobster - are the main items entering international trade, accounting for about 38 percent, followed closely by frozen fish at around 35 percent. Canned fish accounts for about 11 percent, with canned tuna the main item.

Fishmeal and fish oil have a 6 percent share of the global market. The remaining 10 percent consists of a wide variety of products as producers, particularly in developing countries, endeavour to add value to the raw material, whether it be from capture fisheries or aquaculture.

Fish exports are a valuable source of foreign exchange for many developing countries, including some small island countries. Their trade consists largely of high-value products. Globally, developing countries are net exporters of fishery products. Their surplus in foreign exchange earnings from fish trade was constantly increasing until 1995 (when it reached US$17.5 billion), but it eroded slightly in both 1996 and 1997.

Related links
The Fish Marketing Information Service