GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Mixed picture for crab industry

07/01/2021

The crab sector seems less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than other sectors in the seafood industry. Demand for crab seems to be good in the United States of America, and home deliveries are to some extent taking over from foodservice. International trade as a whole is suffering a decline, but US imports are largely unaffected.

Supplies

The Dungeness crab fishery in Southeast Alaska was off to a very good start during the summer. From 15 June through 15 August, a total of 5.8 million pounds (2 631 tonnes) were landed. This is the second largest catch registered after the record 2002 – 2003 season, and more than double the 10- year average. The fishing effort was also great: a total of 192 permit holders were active, compared to the 10-year average of 147 permit holders.

Dungeness crab catches further south on the US west coast looked to be more or less average in 2020. In the state of Washington, a little less than 12 million pounds (5 443 tonnes) had been landed by early July. This was slightly below the 10-year average. In Oregon, just short of 20 million pounds (9 072 tonnes) had been caught, compared to 23 million pounds (10 432 tonnes) in 2018 and 18.7 million pounds (8 482 tonnes) in 2019. In California, total Dungeness crab landings during this period amounted to 13.8 million pounds (6 260 tonnes) in 2020, compared to 13.5 million pounds (6 124 tonnes) in 2019.

In mid-September, there was still some uncertainty about the outlook for the Alaska snow crab season. The TAC was not set, but in general, industry observers expected that it would be more or less the same as last year, when the quota was 34 million pounds (15 422 tonnes). Missing survey data caused by cancelled surveys would tend to make regulators cautious and result in the TAC being reduced. The Canadian snow crab season continued in Newfoundland and Labrador, and by the beginning of August about 90 percent of the 28 510 tonne quota had been caught.

Global supplies of snow crab are expected to be about 100 000 tonnes this year, but thanks to very active promotions in the retail sector, demand is expected to remain good. The new red Russian king crab season started on 1 September with a quota of no less than 16 305 tonnes. The fishing season will last until the end of 2020. Asia is an important market for this fishery, and the live market is particularly interesting, as prices for live king crab in Asia are high.

The Norwegian king crab fishery in the Barents Sea accounts for much less than the Alaska and Russian fisheries, and it looks like 2020 will on a par with 2019. Norwegian king crab exports from January through June amounted to 470 tonnes, compared to 494 tonnes during the same period in 2019. The largest market is the Republic of Korea followed by the United States of America and Viet Nam. One solution to the problem of closed restaurants and foodservice outlets is the home delivery option. Established online sales nearly quadrupled during the COVID-19 pandemic. It may well be that the growth of home delivery is a permanent result of the pandemic.

International trade

Global imports of crabs (all types) declined from 191 165 tonnes the first half of 2019 to 163 055 tonnes during the same period in 2020 (-14.7 percent). The main importer was the United States of America, which showed just a very slight reduction in imports (-1.4 percent). The second largest importer was the Republic of Korea, with 26 569 tonnes compared to 27 043 tonnes during the same period in 2019. 

So far, total US crab imports do not appear to be affected by the COVID-19 situation. During the first six months of 2020, a total of 59 343 tonnes were imported, compared to 60 201 tonnes during the same period in 2019. US imports of crab from Canada went up sharply during the first half of 2020. In June alone, a total of 14 845 tonnes were imported from Canada. China’s imports of crab, on the other hand, dropped by over 31 percent, to 25 713 tonnes. All suppliers felt the reduction. The largest supplier was the Russian Federation, which shipped 12 percent less than during the same period in 2019. The United States of America was the second largest supplier, followed by Bangladesh. China is the largest market for live crab and is expected to maintain its ranking in 2020. China and the rest of Asia are expected to take over 50 percent of Russian live crab.

Republic of Korean imports of live king crab amounted to 3 339 tonnes during the first half of 2020. The Russian Federation was the largest supplier accounting for over 90 percent. The Republic of Korea is also an important importer of live king crab from Norway. The Norwegian crab is getting a somewhat higher price at USD 39.78 per kg, compared to USD 35.27 per kg for Russian crab (prices for June 2020). The Japanese market has slipped in recent years but during the first half of 2020, imports of frozen king crab increased to 1 202 tonnes, compared to 1 046 tonnes during the same period in 2019.

Prices for frozen king crab also went up. However, Japanese snow crab imports dropped by 26 percent to 9 362 tonnes. Russian exports during the first half of the year dropped by 13.5 percent to 26 796 tonnes. The main market by far was the Republic of Korea, which accounted for no less than two thirds of the total volume.

US imports of swimming crab during the first six months of 2020 amounted to 11 386 tonnes, which was only 7 percent less than during the same period in 2019. Indonesia alone accounted for no less than 53 percent or 6 077 tonnes of this amount. However, supplies from Indonesia are expected to slow down between the summer and the new year, as swimming crab landings normally peak during the rainy season, which ended in July. Production is not expected to pick up again until the next rainy season starts in January, which means that increased supplies will only start arriving on the US market some time in February 2021. Prices are expected to rise.

Prices

The outlook for the snow crab sector was cautiously optimistic before the COVID-19 outbreak. Demand was good and increasing. But the pandemic shut down the foodservice sector, and sales faltered. However, sales through the retail and takeout sector replaced some of what was lost in the foodservice sector. Prices have been low for some time.

In June, there was a significant price increase for Canadian snow crab. Supplies were limited and demand was very good. However, even with the price surge, prices in 2020 were below the three year average. Prices for blue swimming crab dropped immediately when the COVID-19 pandemic set in but have slowly recovered. Even so, in June prices were still about USD 1.00 below prices in January. For the most part the collapse of the foodservice sector has brought prices down.

Outlook

Supplies will be adequate for the coming months, and prices are expected to rise a little. With the return of the foodservice sector, some of the sales volumes will undoubtedly move back to this sector from the retail and takeout sector.

The Russian king crab season, which started on 1 September 2020, is expected to give good results, and a lot of the production will be shipped as live crab to Chinese and Republic of Korean markets. Supplies of swimming crab will be tight for the rest of the year because of lower production in Indonesia, and prices will rise until supplies improve in the new year.

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