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GLOBEFISH - Analysis and information on world fish trade

Prices of bivalves sky high

01/11/2017

The report analyses the market situation during the first quarter 2017

Bivalves are mainly consumed domestically, and less than 10 percent of world production is traded. Nevertheless, local producers feel the threat of imported products, and some producers protect themselves very successfully by promoting local labels. France has always been on the forefront of oyster production and in recent years, of mussel production. Europe, which is the main market for mussels, clams and oysters, is entering the period of highest consumption, the summer and holiday season. Prices are reported to increase, even more than in previous years.

Mussels

Chilean mussel production seems to have recovered from the difficult last year results, when red tides hit the main mussel cultivation areas. This was felt on the trade side, as both Spain (+32 percent) and France (+23 percent) substantially increased their imports from Chile. This year, the Wadden Sea has had a good production season, which has benefitted Dutch packers.

During the first three months of 2017, about 60 000 tonnes entered international trade, about 20 percent less than during the same period of 2016. While Chile managed to expand its exports, European countries such as the Netherlands and Spain reported lower sales. Among importers, EU countries gained over two-thirds of world trade.

The French bouchot mussels are protected by several quality seals. One is the spécialité traditionnelle garantie (STG), which guarantees the quality and traceability of the French bouchot product. In addition, some production areas also have the moules de bouchot logo to distinguish them from imported mussels. Further, the mussel producers of the Mount St. Michel area have the protected designation of origin (PDO) logo on their products, and in certain moments of the mussel production, even the Label Rouge can be applied. All these marketing promotion actions show the economic importance of mussel production in several French Departments. Indeed, once the bouchot mussel production resumes – generally in June – all mussels consumed in France are produced nationally. However, from December onward, due to the lack of bouchot production, mussels are imported.

In the first three months of 2017, French imports of mussels were slightly up (+3 percent) compared with the same period of 2016, reaching 14 300 tonnes. The Netherlands and Spain are traditionally the main exporters to this market, with a 30 percent market share. However, in 2017, some movement was created by Chile, which managed to export some 2 300 tonnes during the first three months, a 23 percent increase over 2016.

Spanish mussel production is mainly a small-scale enterprise activity in the fjords of Galicia. On average, some 250 000 tonnes of mussels are produced in Spain, with 95 percent of the production coming from Galicia. These numbers represent a strong recovery after some negative years such as 2013, when biotoxins created bad press and lower production for the sector. In fact, due to good local production, imports are declining. In the first three months of 2017, some 4 400 tonnes were imported, which is 20 percent lower than the imports in 2013.

Oysters

Unlike mussels and clams, the summer period is not a main consumption period of oysters in France and in Mediterranean countries. The French oyster season traditionally declines in summer, and the lack of product is evident at retail, but producers on the coast are optimizing direct sales during the tourist season through innovative channels such as food trucks and automatic 24/7 temperature-controlled distributors. In addition, the French scientific institution Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER) is again tracking summer oyster mortalities; on their 31/05 bulletin they reported an average mortality rate of 27.9 percent at the national level for seed oysters, with high regional fluctuation. Juvenile and adult oysters are reported as having much lower mortality rates (1.2 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively). Due to limited demand, trade is also relatively limited. In the first three months of 2017, only 13 000 tonnes were entering international markets, with France and China as main suppliers. Oyster production and trade will pick up in the last quarter of the year.

Clams

Demand for clams is sky-high at the moment. Most of the production is consumed locally. Italian clams production is selling at EUR17 per kg for cultured Ruditapes philippinarum. This species had been introduced some 20 years ago into the Mediterranean area, and has largely replaced the native clams. Last year, prices were around EUR 9 per kg. This substantial price hike indicates the strong demand for this species during the present summer period. The Italian native clam (Venus gallina) is mainly captured by a whole range of small-scale vessels operating on the Adriatic coast of Italy. Prices for this species have also gone up strongly in recent months: the present price level is EUR10 per kg, which compares to about EUR6 per kg during summer 2016.

Scallops

China is the main producer, exporter and importer of this species. Total imports were 33 000 tonnes in the first three months of the year, with China representing one-third of total imports, followed by the United States of America and France. Total trade was reportedly 10 percent lower than in 2016. This can be interpreted as a readjustment of the market after strong imports reported during last year, when prices increased significantly.

Prices of bivalves sky high

With the exception of scallops and oysters, all other bivalves report very high prices, which reflect the strong seasonal demand. Production of mussels and clams is not growing fast enough to keep pace with the excellent market environment reported during this summer. During the autumn, demand will return to normal, and prices are likely to drop to a certain degree. In the long term, however, demand for bivalves is likely to stay strong. Developing countries are likely to invest in good infrastructure and quality control in order to be able to export to the lucrative EU live bivalves market, which is currently open only for a few countries. 

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