GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Tuna - January 2014


Japan, the largest sashimi tuna market, has become less active with lower imports during the first half of the year. The canned tuna market fared better with improved imports by the European Union and the USA. Canned tuna demand has also increased in many non-conventional markets.

In the Western Pacific, the 4-month FAD fishing ban remains in force until 31 October and since the start on 1 July catches have been reduced but the price of frozen skipjack for delivery to Thailand dropped to USD 1 900/tonne in July, which was the lowest since January 2012; it weakened further to USD 1 800/tonne in August and moved up to USD 1 920/tonne (CFR Bangkok) in mid-September.

In the Eastern Pacific tuna supplies to canners in Ecuador have dropped significantly from the coastal and deep-sea fisheries since late July because of adverse weather conditions, coupled with strong currents and colder ocean water temperatures. The IATTC fishing closed period was also in place from 29 July to 28 September and 35% of the fishing fleet was not fishing in that area. The remaining vessels will observe the second closure from 18 November 2013 to 18 January 2014. Skipjack stock volumes are good and Manta prices have levelled off at USD 2 050/tonne ex vessel.

In the Indian Ocean skipjack catches have improved and this has allowed the transhipment price from the Atlantic to drop to EUR 1 500/tonne FOB Seychelles compared with EUR 1 620/tonne recorded in August. Yellowfin volumes have not changed much, resulting in a slightly lower price of EUR 2 260/tonne, FOB Seychelles.

In the Atlantic Ocean, fishing off the African coast also remains favourable; the ex vessel price of skipjack in Abidjan dropped to EUR 1 490/tonne and to EUR 2 400/tonne for yellowfin.

A similar price weakening was seen in Europe. In Spain, skipjack is being traded for EUR 1 630/tonne CFR, quite a substantial drop compared with EUR 1 700/tonne in August. As for yellowfin, prices in Italy are stable at EUR 2 600-2 650/tonne CFR, but Spanish prices have contracted sharply to EUR 2 450 CFR/tonne.


During the first half of the year, tuna landings in Japan posted a slight rise of 1.4% as a result of a significant increase in coastal landings of fresh bluefin and skipjack.

In August, there were unusually large landings of small sized bluefin (20-30 kg/per piece) on the Pacific Ocean side of Hokkaido, which were a result of an unexpected warmwater current in that region.

Demand for fresh chilled sashimi tuna has weakened on the Japanese market. Generally demand for sashimi tuna improves from beginning of autumn but this year sales were still down as a result of the warm weather, which is not favourable for raw fish consumption. Tuna prices, however, remain firm while supplies of air-flown tuna were low because of bad weather conditions in local and foreign fishing grounds during August and September. Recently one of the large department stores in Japan started to promote the sale of MEL Japan (Marine Eco-label Japan) certified local skipjack through its outlets.

In the second half of 2013, the seasonal catches for sanma or pike mackerel began to appear on the market; this is a competitor for fresh tuna in autumn.

In contrast to sashimi tuna, retail demand for red meat quality bigeye tuna remains high for Western Pacific origin fish because the quality is good. Lower quality tuna of Indian Ocean origin (caught off Somalia last year) is less popular in spite of lower prices and the market is showing a preference for better quality products. This year, supplies of frozen bigeye tuna are expected to be lower than last year and prices are already on the rise.

Kaiten sushi restaurant operators, however, remain loyal to Mexican and Australian bluefin tuna.

During the first half of the year, overall tuna imports (excluding canned tuna) remained below last year’s level in Japan. Imports of fresh and frozen tuna, including loins, totalled 113 162 tonnes compared with 129 410 tonnes imported in the same period in 2012.

Notably, imports of all types of frozen tuna, except albacore, remained below last year’s levels during the January to June period in 2013. Supply shortfall for frozen skipjack was particularly high at - 47%.

Despite the weakening yen, imports of red meat quality frozen tuna loins were stable during the first half of the year. Supplies during this period increased from the Republic of Korea and China but dropped significantly from Fiji and also from Indonesia. Viet Nam was the only source that increased supply from Southeast Asia. From south Asia, India appeared as a new source of supplies (although the quantity is still small), whereas frozen loin supply from Sri Lanka was down. Imports of frozen bluefin loins increased during the first half of the year, as more whole fish are being processed into frozen loin for longer shelf life.


There was a marginal decline in air-flown fresh tuna imports during the first half of the year although the import value increased from USD 107 million to USD 110 million, which could be linked with increased imports of high value Pacific bluefin tuna. Total imports of non-canned tuna during this time were 122 810 tonnes valued at USD 250 million compared with 143 075 tonnes and USD 232 million during the same period last year. Nearly 80% of these were frozen loins and steaks.

Demand for fresh chilled sashimi tuna remained stable in the USA, which is now the second largest market for non-canned tuna products.

Canned tuna: positive trends continue in major markets

The lower price of USD 2 000/tonne CFR Bangkok, at which skipjack has been traded since early July, has softened canned tuna prices by 2-5% in recent weeks. Demand for canned tuna in European and USA markets continues to improve. Packers in Asia reported better sales in the second quarter of 2013 as customers used up low-priced inventories.


The confidence of US consumers has improved slightly as a result of positive economic indications and there are signs of willingness to spend more on products that meet changing tastes and provide value for money. To revive demand for canned tuna major tuna packers are engaging in promoting canned tuna products as well as introducing new premium and convenience products.

As an indication of recovering domestic demand, canned tuna imports into the USA continued to show strong growth this year. During the first six months of 2013 imports of canned (and pouch) tuna grew by 12.2% in volume and 17.8% in value against the same period of last year. Significant growth was recorded for imports of popular light meat tuna in brine (+21.1%) and also more expensive pouched tuna (+7.8%). Thailand remained the largest supplier and has shipped almost 54 000 tonnes so far this year, up 26.7%. Almost 83% of the total canned tuna imported into the USA came from ASEAN countries and shipments from this group increased by around 12% this year.

Suppliers are also generally more optimistic about the USA market this year. Chicken of the Sea International (COS), expects revenue growth of 8% and volume growth of 2% this year. Its competitor, StarKist recently launched a newly branded "Made in America" canned Chunk Light Tuna in Water, and Chunk Light Tuna in Oil, prepared and packaged in American Samoa. Bumble Bee has released the autumn edition of its BeeWell for Life ebook – these are aimed at providing seasonally appropriate fitness tips and encouraging healthy living, as well as containing recipes using Bumble Bee’s canned products, including tuna.

Meanwhile the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) approved the new Dolphin Protection Consumer Act that came into effect on 13 July this year. The ruling includes a period of education and outreach to provide the fishing industry with additional guidance on enforcement up to 1 January 2014. NOAA said the new act is compliant with a WTO ruling and it requires that any canned tuna sold in the US with a Dolphin-Safe label must have a certification that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured in the process, no matter what gear type was used or where the tuna was caught.


On the whole consumer sentiment has improved and retailers have reported better sales of canned tuna in recent months. Innovative products and promotions were undertaken by major packers, and these, coupled with the growing popularity of private (supermarket) brands, have contributed to increasing imports. For the first 6 months of the year, canned tuna imports into the EU-27 (external) posted positive growth of 13.6% in volume and 31.8% in value on a year on year basis, amounting to 197 162 tonnes worth USD 1.14 billion.

Canned tuna shipments to selected European major markets also increased significantly except to Italy, which posted negative growth of almost 8% for the January to June 2013 period compared with the same period last year. Italy imported less from Spain (-19.1%), its largest supplier, but shipments from Seychelles increased sharply (+48.4%) indicating that buyers opted for cheaper alternatives.

Germany imported more canned tuna this year (+14.6%) with more supplies reported from Ecuador (+82%) and Thailand (+73.3%). Ecuador overtook the Philippines as the number one supplier as supplies from the latter dropped by 15.6% during the reporting period.

Thailand and Ecuador also did well in the French market supplying 31% and 51.7% more respectively in 2013, while Cote d’Ivoire managed to increase its shipments by 19.4% overtaking Seychelles as the largest supplier.

British consumers bought 8.4% less canned fish in the last 12 months up to June this year, according to Nielsen’s report. The canned tuna market, however, seemed to be better this year as reflected in higher imports. Up to June 2013 imports increased by 7.3% with more supplies coming from Asian countries such as Thailand (+59.3%) and Indonesia (+50%). Shipments from Mauritius, the largest supplier to UK, dropped by more than 19%.

Taking advantage of the EU duty free import quota for pre-cooked tuna loins, Spain imported more from Asia this year, particularly from China (+212.5%) and Thailand (+114.3%). Nevertheless Ecuador remained the largest supplier of pre-cooked tuna loins to Spain, though shipment from this source dropped slightly (-1.8%) this year. Ecuador, however, managed to supply more (+20%) pre-cooked tuna loins to Italy.


Asian canned tuna producing countries are hopeful that they will get better market access to the EU markets next year. The Philippines is expecting to receive preferential treatment for its canned tuna exports to the EU under the enhanced Generalized Scheme of Preferences or GSP Plus program to be implemented from 1 January 2014 while Thailand has resumed its free trade agreement negotiation with the EU. To support the negotiation, 130 Thai companies including Thai Union Frozen Products (TUF) recently signed a memorandum of understanding to adopt the International Labour Organization’s Good Labour Practices (GLP) program. Many accusations have been targeted at the Thai tuna industry, especially from Spain, which has continually accused Thailand of labour violations and poor working conditions.

With better demand from some major markets Thai canned tuna exports maintained a positive trend and grew marginally by 1.4% in quantity during the first semester of this year against the same period of 2012. In value terms, however, the exports were more or less stagnant. Shipments to Egypt, the number one destination in the Middle East, dropped by almost half. Similar trends were recorded in exports to Libya (-12.9%), Papua New Guinea (-27.3%), Italy (-83.9%), South Africa (-15.5%), UAE (-27.3%) and to the largest market USA (-3.4%). Higher shipments to other markets, however, managed to offset the declines as exports to some European and Latin American markets increased significantly, for example to the UK (+159.4%), Germany (+83.9%), France (+62.3%), Argentina (+19.5%) and Chile (+68.5%). Surprisingly exports to Syria were also significantly up by 193.4%.

In the domestic market TUF reported that canned fish demand in Thailand was flat in the second half of last year compared with an average annual growth of 3-5% in recent years. In 2012, the overall market value of Thai canned fish was THB 6.2 billion (USD 207 million).

In China, the tuna canning industry is growing, particularly in Zhoushan and Ningbo cities. In Zhousan there are 15 companies processing tuna with an installed capacity of around 25 000 tonnes raw material a year, reports.

Canned tuna prices in Japan for locally produced products increased by 9.3% as a result of increased production costs and the weaker yen. The value of imported products also increased (+18%) on a year on year basis in the January to June period, despite a 1.7% shortfall in the imported volume. Thailand had a 70% share in this supply.


This year supplies of sashimi quality frozen bigeye tuna are expected to be lower than last year’s and firmer price levels are forecast.

Canned tuna sales in Europe and the USA are expected to continue on a positive trend in the third quarter because of improved consumer’s confidence and better sales during summer. Canned tuna prices, however, will remain high as the skipjack price is predicted to rebound to above USD 2 000 towards the end of the year.

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