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GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Bumper year for global seafood in 2017 gives way to a more uncertain outlook for 2018

01/05/2018

This report analyses the market situation with annual statistics for 2017. 

Global fish production increased by an estimated 2.3 percent in 2017, boosted by a recovery in catches in a number of important fisheries following the El Niño climatic event. Global aquaculture harvests continue to grow at a consistent rate of 4–5 percent a year, which will see the sector overtake capture fisheries as the leading means of fish production within the next 2–3 years. Aquaculture already supplies the major proportion of the fish we eat, accounting for 54 percent of the 20.4 kg per capita consumed in 2017. Compared with the previous year, international seafood trade expanded at a faster rate in 2017 in both volume and value terms, driven by better than expected economic growth globally and the weakening of the US dollar towards the end of the year. Prices for multiple commodity groups trended upwards even as total supply rose, backed by a general strengthening of demand in major seafood markets across the world.

Over the course of 2017, the FAO Fish Price Index rose by 9 points, primarily as a result of a 23-point rise in traded prices for wild caught species, including cod, cephalopods, tuna and small pelagic species. In fact, the capture fisheries price index reached its highest ever level, 169 points, in December 2017, the peak of a strong upward trend that began in late 2015. Meanwhile, the aquaculture price index fell 3 points from December 2016 to December 2017, due in large part to a steep 18-point drop in the salmon component of the index, as record harvest volumes hit markets in the second half of the year. Overall, however, average salmon prices in 2017 still exceeded those achieved in 2016.

Production increases combined with high prices turned into substantial gains in export revenues for seafood exporting regions in 2017, led in absolute and percentage terms by South America. Higher catches of Peruvian anchoveta, improved full-year prices for Chilean salmon and good farmed shrimp harvests in Ecuador were the main factors behind an estimated USD 3.6 billion increase in the South American seafood export revenues in 2017. In Asia, a 36 percent increase in Indian export revenue in 2017 followed a 14 percent increase the prior year. These figures reflect the effects of rapid growth in Indian farmed shrimp production, as well as the rising price trend for cephalopods. In Europe, the general improvement in economic conditions was a catalyst for increased seafood exports in the EU28, both external and internal. Meanwhile, Norway continued to record ever-higher export revenues on the back of good prices for groundfish and farmed salmon.

The rebound of the Brazilian economy and accelerated growth in a number of key Asian countries in 2017 helped developing countries regain their position as the leaders of global seafood trade expansion. Both exports and imports by developing countries grew an estimated 10 percent in 2017. Emerging economies in East and Southeast Asia, mainly China but also smaller and rapidly growing economies such as the Republic of Korea and Thailand, continue to take an increasing large share of the global market as consumers, in addition to their historically more prominent roles as producers, processors, and exporters. In 2017, however, exporters were able to take advantage of strong demand spread across multiple markets in different regions, including the large developed economies of the United States of America, the EU28 and Japan, where growth returned in 2017 after relatively weak performance the previous year. Combined, these three markets imported 6.7 percent more seafood in 2017 in value terms, equivalent to a total value of USD 6.15 billion.

In 2018, the supply outlook is mixed across the main commodity groups, and the threat of unexpected supply shocks due to increasingly frequent extreme weather events or disease is continually present. On the market side, the economic gains realized globally in 2017 are widely expected to continue into 2018, although the World Trade Organization (WTO) expects a slight slowdown in merchandise trade growth, which is generally broadly correlated with trends in international seafood trade. There has also been a number of developments that represent potential downside risks to the global economy, including rising geopolitical tensions, interest rate hikes by central banks and further escalation of the ‘trade war’ between the United States of America and China. Both of these countries are major players in the global seafood market, and although fish products have not yet been subject to retaliatory measures by either government, their future inclusion could have a significant impact on trade flows.

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