GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

COVID-19 disrupts bivalve production and trade

08/07/2020

Last year was very positive for bivalve consumption worldwide, with good demand and generally higher prices. However, COVID-19 changed this picture completely. In early 2020 the Chinese market broke off, and in the coming months European countries and the United States of America followed suit. At present, bivalve trade is almost none existent, with growers keeping the bivalves in the water, hoping for a better trade environment in the second half of the year. In many countries, bivalve growers have requested government assistance for business losses.

Mussels

World mussel trade was stable in 2019 remaining at the levels reached in 2018. Some 370 000 tonnes entered international trade, on par with the corresponding 2018 figure. The main importing countries were France, the Netherlands and Italy. On the export side, Chile is dominating the market, with 76 000 tonnes exported in 2019. Chilean mussel producers had to cope with the civil unrest in the country on top of COVID-19, all of which has caused normal economic activities and logistics to cease.Lower mussel sales were reported in Chile in the last quarter of the year, as social conflict affected trade performance. In fact, exports of mussels from Chile were 9 000 tonnes in the last quarter of 2019, 4 000 tonnes less than in the same period of 2018. 

The European Union is one of the main markets for live mussels, but imports decreased in 2019. Some 216 000 tonnes were imported by the European Union last year, which is 4 000 tonnes lower than in 2018.

Oysters

Christmas sales in 2019 of oysters were very strong, even exceeding expectations. Prices went up greatly, as supplies were difficult, especially in France. Oyster trade declined slightly in 2019. Some 70 500 tonnes entered international trade in 2019, some 7 percent less than in 2018. France was the main exporting country, even reporting some increase in sales, despite the disease problems experienced by its oyster producers.

At the end of 2019, there was a very negative impact on French oyster growers following the norovirus problems which negatively affected sales. In the first four months of 2020, the oyster market felt the impact of COVID-19. Easter, which is normally a main sales period for oyster consumption, reported bleak demand for oyster, far lower than in recent years. In addition, most oyster consumption occurs in restaurants, which are all closed in Europe at the moment.

Clams

International trade of clams is concentrated in the Asian market, with Japan and the Republic of Korea as main markets and China as the main supplier. In 2019, trade in clams reached 291 000 tonnes, a 4 percent increase over 2018. In Europe, trade is almost absent, as the domestic markets are supplied by national producers. Clams are mainly used in restaurant trade in southern Europe, but due to COVID-19 restaurant closures, there was practically no demand for this product in early 2020.

Scallops

International trade in scallops is rather limited, not exceeding 150 000 tonnes per year. China is both the main importer and exporter. Total world trade was 170 000 tonnes in 2019, more or less on  par with the 2018 trade. China represents 40 percent of scallop imports and 33 percent of scallop exports.

In 2019, Peru came back as a main scallop exporter, after four rather difficult years. In 2019, some 10 000 tonnes of scallops were exported from Peru, which is 40 percent more than in 2018, and three times the low 2017 figures. Scallop production in Peru had been affected by a strong El Niño in 2016 and 2017. Some US scallop producing companies that concentrate on the Chinese and Hong Kong SAR market have reported sharp declines in 2020 orders and this trade is unlikely to recover in the near future.

Outlook

Worldwide, producers have initiated longer grow times for their bivalves and are not restocking aquaculture areas. As a result, supply will be far lower than compared with normal production years. The complete closing of the restaurant trade all over Europe has led to the disappearance of normal demand for fresh and live bivalves. Prices are low, and aquaculture companies are closing down, waiting for government support in order to survive.

The gross domestic product in southern Europe is forecasted to decline at least in the first half of the year, and demand for bivalves will suffer from this. The normal tourist season in summer months will not materialize, leading to very low bivalve consumption, likely only 10-20 percent of normal consumption during these months.

In the longer term, many small-size production and trading companies in Europe, Asia and the United States of America are unlikely to reopen their business until 2021, and some may not survive the dire economic impacts of COVID-19 at all.

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