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GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Price volatility of raw material for canning continued between January and June


Imports of canned tuna were below last year’s in most leading markets during the first quarter of 2018, with the exception of the United States of America. Demand improved since April/May.

Raw Material Supply

Tuna catches in the Western and Central Pacific were low to moderate from April to May 2018, and improved only in June, prior to the FAD fishing closure from July to October. Frozen tuna demand was good in Thailand as canners procured supplies ahead of the FAD closure. As of June, the cold storage in Thailand was almost full to the capacity.

As of June, fishing in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) improved and canneries in Manta received more supplies from the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. Skipjack price started to decline in June, but yellowfin tuna remained firm in the Eastern Pacific areas. According to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), tuna catches in the EPO were down to 290 300 tonnes during the first half of 2018, some 8 percent lower than during the same period in 2017.

Around the Indian Ocean, landings were better with higher level of transhipment to Ecuador and Thailand from April to June.

Fresh and frozen tuna market (non-canned)

United States of America

The US market for non-canned tuna products continues to show strong demand, particularly for the frozen category. Market penetration for tasteless smoke and carbon monoxide treaded products has increased in retail and restaurant chain outlets, with rising prices in recent years.

During the first three months of 2018, imports of frozen fillet steaks increased by 13 percent to 8 100 tonnes, in comparison with imports during the same period in 2017. A large share of these imports consisted of treated products in general. The main suppliers were Indonesia, Viet Nam, the Philippines and Thailand.

Total imports of fresh air-flown tuna declined marginally during the review period. Supplies of the higher priced bluefin tuna, which is generally used for sashimi and sushi, increased by 17 percent from 396 tonnes in 2017 to 465 tonnes in the first quarter of 2018.


Demand for sashimi tuna was high during the Spring festival celebrations in April and May 2018, but slowed down afterward. Imports of both fresh and frozen tuna were negative during the first quarter of 2018. Throughout the peak consumption season of April and May, the market sourced more local fresh tuna, supported by the Japanese government’s policy to increase self-sufficiency in food fish supply.

Canned tuna trade

International trade of canned tuna remained weak worldwide during the first quarter of 2018. Consumer demand remained low and many markets were holding sufficient stocks imported last year.

Following a weaker demand particularly for conventional canned tuna in brine or in oil in most of the markets, exports declined from the top two suppliers (Thailand and Ecuador) during the first three months of 2018. The increased exports from Indonesia during the reporting period was a result of higher exports of cooked loins to Thailand, the United States of America and Italy and also higher exports of canned tuna to North America, Europe and Middle East markets. Exports of cooked loins increased from Indonesia and China to Thailand and Europe.


The US and Japanese markets registered positive import growth for the first quarter of 2018, compared with the same period a year ago. Improved consumer demand for higher value canned tuna seemed be the supporting factor in the United States of America. The lull in the substantial Middle Eastern market persisted, particularly in the large market of Egypt where demand recovery has been slow, indicating availability of good stocks. Imports from Southeast Asia increased marginally in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen during the review period. There were higher imports in many
East Asian markets.

North and South America

At the beginning of 2018, one of the top three US canned tuna brands introduced a new range of gourmet tuna products (ready to eat yellowfin tuna slices) suitable for delis and restaurants. In May 2018, at the INFOFISH Tuna Conference, leading US marketers reaffirmed the positive demand trend for similar types of processed higher value tuna with convenient packaging (in pouch or ready to eat kits) among the middle and higher income younger population group in North American markets emphasising that “currently they are the smallest but the fastest growing household consumers in the United States of America”. The import increase of higher value canned albacore and tuna in pouch in the United States of America during the review period is a reflection of this development.

There was no improvement in the Canadian canned tuna trade, where imports declined by 27 percent during the first half of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017, with falling exports from the top suppliers, namely Thailand, the Philippines, Italy and Viet Nam, but increased from Indonesia.

In Latin America, demand for canned tuna increased during the first quarter of 2018. There were 2-digit import growths in Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay during the review period. At the Tuna Conference in Bangkok, Latin American market leaders expressed their view that the “wind of anti-populism policy and free trade will reshape the Latin American tuna industry in the next few years.”

European Union (Member Organization)

Canned tuna imports remained weak during the first quarter of 2018, as the market had unsold stocks from last year’s imports. Another reason for the drop in supplies was the high raw material price in 2018. Imports of both canned tuna and cooked loins declined by 9 percent during this period compared with the same period in 2017. Cooked loins represented 30 percent (52 000 tonnes) of the total processed tuna imports in the EU28.

The EU28 canned tuna market was largely supplied by external sources (73 percent, 127 800 tonnes) with mixed supply trends from the leading sources, namely Ecuador (-17.6 percent, 26 100 tonnes), China (+62 percent, 16 500 tonnes), the Philippines (+10 percent, 12 700 tonnes), Mauritius (-21 percent, 10 500 tonnes) and Indonesia (+67 percent, 9 100 tonnes).

Meanwhile, the impact of the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU28 remains uncertain for EU28 canners in Spain, France and Italy, as well as for non-EU28 supplying countries. Even though regulations have been updated, including EU28 approval lists, customs, regulations and others, the United Kingdom has yet to decide what to do and which regulation to continue.

Others in Europe

There were higher imports of canned tuna by the Russian Federation (+8 percent, 762 tonnes), Norway (+37 percent, 760 tonnes) but poorer imports by Switzerland (4 percent, 2 700 tonnes).

Asia/Pacific & Other Markets

Although Japanese imports of fresh and frozen seafood were 6 percent lower in the first quarter of 2018 than a year ago, consumer demand for canned tuna continued to rise during this period, with imports up by 1.7 percent to 13 800 tonnes. Thailand, the leading supplier to Japan, managed to hold its position with marginal increase in supply (+1.3 percent), while China and Viet Nam increased exports by 70 and 30 percent, respectively.

Australia is traditionally a market for high value canned tuna but, during the first three months of 2018, imports from the main supplier Thailand dropped by 24 percent to 9 600 tonnes. In contrast, imports of cheaper product (canned tuna in brine and others) increased from Indonesia (+26 percent, 1 500 tonnes) and from Viet Nam (+175 percent, 80 tonnes). Overall, canned tuna imports in Australia declined by 19 percent during the review period.

Imports have increased also in the Southeast Asian markets of Malaysia, China Hong Kong SAR, and Republic of Korea during the first three months of 2018, compared with the same period a year ago. In an effort to capture the high-end seafood market in East Asia, tuna packers in the Philippines launched higher value canned tuna (yellowfin tuna chunks in lemon and pepper, in herb and garlic, in mild Indian curry, packed in 90g cans). Reportedly, the products launched early this year were met with positive consumer acceptance in Southeast Asian markets.

This year’s introduction of value-added tuna products in the US and Southeast Asian markets is expected to induce consumer demand for processed tuna, particularly in Asian markets.


The delivery price of frozen skipjack to Thailand, the largest canned tuna base in Asia, increased from USD 1 500 per tonne in March to USD 1 800 per tone in May 2018.

Tuna packers in Ecuador faced a shortage of raw material, particularly skipjack, and therefore paid higher price than Bangkok packers until May 2018.

Prices for Spanish canners for skipjack and yellowfin tuna increased by 8 percent from March to May 2018, following lower catches in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Since June 2018, tuna packers in Europe started to pay higher prices for cooked loins but less for frozen skipjack and yellowfin tuna.
Offer prices of skipjack to Thai canners in Bangkok started to drop sharply since June, pulling raw material prices down in other markets as well.

In the non-canned tuna market, import prices of frozen carbon monoxide treated tuna loins and steaks remained firm during the first half of 2018, compared with 2017.

In July 2018, the reference US import prices of AA and AAA grade frozen yellowfin tuna products were at USD 4.85–5.15 per lb for steaks, USD 4.75–5.05 per lb for loins and USD 7.90–8.70 per lb for saku.

According to a leading US buyer, tasteless smoke treated products generally sell for USD 0.10 per lb more than carbon monoxide treated products. Since the first half of 2018, retail prices of treated products range from 30 percent (major retail chain stores) to 70 percent margin, for boutique stores.


The current raw material stocks in Thailand and Ecuador are reported to be good, but tuna catches in the Pacific fishing grounds are likely to be lower in the coming months. This forecast is based on the FAD fishing closure in the Central and Western Pacific from July to October and on the Eastern Pacific 72-day Veda fishing effective from 29 July, which may lead 50 percent of the fishing fleet to stay at ports.

The declining price curve of raw material observed in June may be reversed by lower catches from August through October 2018. However, it is rather difficult to predict how far the price may drop during this period. Currently, Thai canners are holding good stocks of raw material and it is unlikely that they will go for aggressive imports if raw material prices rise too much.

In the end consumer market, demand for both non-canned and canned/pouched tuna in North America and Europe is likely to be better during the summer months from June to August. As of May 2018, a positive import trend persisted in the US market.

In the EU28 markets of Spain, France, and the United Kingdom, the preliminary trade data for the period between January and May showed a pause in imports compared to the same period in 2017. This could be a result of the high raw material prices between April and May 2018. Canadian imports remained weak during the first five months of 2018, but summer demand for canned tuna is likely to improve this trend.

In Japan, demand for sashimi tuna is being affected during the July-August holiday season due to heavy rain across several prefectures that caused landslides and flooding and disrupted many domestic holiday trips. Demand for shelf-stable canned tuna is increasing in the affected areas. Japanese imports of canned tuna are likely to go up in the coming months.

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