GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Tuna - September 2014


Prices of frozen skipjack have recently increased with a further price rise expected in the coming months.

In the non-canned tuna market, imports of sashimi tuna weakened further in Japan largely due to the unfavourable yen/dollar exchange rate, while demand remained stable in the US market.  In canned tuna trade, the rising raw material prices associated with low catches is concerning to tuna canners and marketers. During the first quarter of the year, the USA and EU saw a decline in canned tuna imports.

Prices and supplies

Western and Central Pacific

During the first four months of 2014, frozen skipjack prices for delivery to Bangkok weakened to USD 1 200 per tonne in April. However, the price began to strengthen during extensive negotiations between fishing operators, traders and packers at the INFOFISH TUNA 2014 Conference held in Bangkok in May. A negotiation was reached at 1 450 per tonne, with further price increases predicted in anticipation of the three months ban on FAD fishing beginning in July in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). Indeed, the delivery price to Bangkok in late June reached 1 750 per tonne. Following the low supply situation, buyers are recognizing that the skipjack market has taken an upward trend and prices may not return to recent lows for some time. As of late June, fishing in the WCPO was low to moderate.

Eastern Pacific

According to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), tuna catches in the Eastern Pacific Ocean during 1 January to 2 March 2014, were marginally higher this year at 93 661 tonnes compared with 93 273 tonnes during the same period last year. The main stakeholders of these catches were Ecuador at 37 770 tonnes and Mexico at 23 194 tonnes. However, for skipjack, catches from January to April were 16% below last year’s at 84 974 tonnes. Yellowfin catches (by pole and line boats and purse seiners) saw a 5% year-on-year increase during the January to April period to 81 369 tonnes.

Despite this marginal increase at the beginning of the year, by June catches in the Eastern Pacific had dropped below average due to above average water temperatures with the presence of a large scale El Niño.  As a result, the skipjack price has now increased to USD 1 450 per tonne, ex-vessel for Manta, Ecuador. Despite the high proportion of yellowfin in landings in June (60%), the yellowfin price has also increased to USD 2 300 per tonne.

Indian and Atlantic

Catches in the Indian Ocean have proved disappointing, with vessels reporting very poor catches and local canneries short on inventories. The skipjack price has increased to EUR 1 150 per tonne, FOB Mahe while the yellowfin price has increased to EUR 2 150 per tonne. Similarly, vessels in the Atlantic Ocean have reported very slow fishing and the local canneries are now low on raw material. This situation has caused skipjack and yellowfin prices to rise to EUR 1 075 and EUR 2 120 per tonne, ex-vessel Abidjan. Consequently, in the European market, both the skipjack and yellowfin price strengthened (EUR 1 150 per tonne and EUR 2 350 per tonne, both CFR Spain). The market price for cooked, double cleaned yellowfin loins remains stable at USD 8 200 per tonne, DDP Italy.


Overall, catch levels of sashimi grade tuna have also been lower this year, which is reflected in Japanese landings. Japanese aquaculture experts have been successful in making bluefin tuna spawn in land-based tanks, which is seen as the first step towards the establishment of the technology to stably produce tuna fry from eggs. The Fisheries Research Agency in Japan confirmed the first spawning in a tank on May 16, with 15 400 eggs produced becoming 7 840 fry. The total number of fry reached about 200 000 in two days. The agency has been working to develop spawning technology that uses land-based tanks in which the farming environment can be kept consistent.

In Australia, harvests of Southern bluefin have started early this year in June; these fish will go to the Japanese frozen sashimi tuna market. Currently, nearly 85% of the catch is exported in frozen form due to the longer storage life. 

Non-canned market (fresh and frozen) 


Driven by the annual spring festival in April and May, there was strong demand for sashimi tuna in restaurants, supermarkets and the catering trade. Demand since then has slowed, with prices for all sashimi tuna showing a downward trend. Following the tradition, demand for tataki (roasted skipjack) increased in June. Sashimi continues to compete with salmon, a versatile product which can be more competitively priced.

For overall tuna demand, consumer demand improved in June for a short period as a result of the mid-year bonus season, which gives extra disposable income to households. Following June, the market entered a low consumption period.

During the first quarter of 2014, Japanese tuna imports posted negative growth continuing an overall downward trend. While a general decline in consumption of sashimi tuna was one factor in this decline, the higher import cost associated with the weak yen also played a role. The yen/dollar exchange rate remains a major constraint to seafood marketers.

Total imports of fresh and frozen tuna in the first quarter, including fillet/loins and tuna meat, were 3% below last year’s (55 760 tonnes) compared with the same period last year. Imports of whole dressed fresh and frozen tuna in the first quarter were at a five-year low. In comparison, the demand trend for frozen tuna loins and fillets has slightly improved.

Air-flown in imports of fresh tuna in Japan were at a record low during the first quarter of the year, demonstrating a 14% reduction at 5 800 tonnes compared with the same time period last year. Supplies fell for all types of tuna except for bluefin and southern bluefin, for which the quantity is relatively small. It seems the Japanese market is slowly moving away from whole/dressed fresh tuna to frozen loins, which has a longer storage life.

The post holiday festival inventories for bluefin tuna were high, with increased imports of frozen bluefin tuna (whole dressed and loins) during the first quarter of the year compared with the same period in 2013.


Demand for non-canned tuna in the US market remained stable during the first quarter of 2014, with total imports of almost 10 000 tonnes (fresh and frozen). Under the fresh tuna category (air-flown), imports of both yellowfin and high priced bluefin tuna were higher supported by the stable demand. Also during the first quarter, fresh bluefin imports from Mexico almost doubled from 54 tonnes last year to 106 tonnes this year. Fresh bigeye imports declined slightly, attributed to reduced catches in the major fishing areas.

Compared with the same period last year, fresh tuna imports into the USA during the first quarter were 8% higher at 5 300 tonnes.

Imports of Japanese origin frozen/dressed bluefin to the US market increased from 4 tonnes in the first quarter of 2013 to 171 tonnes in the first three months of 2014 in response to strong demand from the sushi restaurants in the USA.

Canned market


The US canned market continues declining as a result of weakening household demand. According to data presented during the INFOFISH TUNA 2014 conference by David Melbourne, the Senior Vice President of Bumble Bee Food, household intake of canned and pouch tuna in the US has declined. For the 52 weeks ending March 2014, consumption was reported at 65.9% compared with 68.1% recorded during the same period of 2010. Sale volumes of shelf stable tuna during the reporting period also declined from USD 30.8 million (equivalent to 27.3 million cases), excluding sales in the catering sector. However, in value terms sales were stable at around USD 1.68 billion, reflecting the increase in canned tuna prices.

The declining demand is mirrored in declining imports. During the first quarter of 2014, imports of canned and pouch tuna totalled 50 800 tonnes valued at USD 226.7 million, down by 11.4% in quantity and 16.4% in value compared with the same period of 2013. The declines were mainly attributed to the sharp drop in imports of popular light meat ‘tuna in brine’ which fell by 23.2% in quantity. Light meat tuna is considered the staple item among the average US consumers, as out of every 10 cans of tuna consumed in the USA, 6 cans are light meat.


Last year’s positive market growth disappeared this year, demonstrated in the negative import growth during the first quarter as compared with the same period in 2013.  Overall imports of canned tuna modestly increased by 0.41 % at 120 800 tonnes against 120 300 tonnes last year in the same period. Imports declined from Ecuador (-22.4%), Seychelles (-4.78%), Papua New Guinea (-10.76%) and Cote d’ Ivoire (-57%). Imports increased from Southeast Asia, namely Thailand (+29%), the Philippines (+47%) and Indonesia (+14.8%).

In the individual EU markets, imports of canned tuna were lower in the UK, France, and Germany but increased in Italy, where the market was largely dominated by Spain. Cooked loin imports increased in Spain and also in Italy, where high value canned/pouched packs are made.


The softening of skipjack price has impacted canned tuna exports from Thailand, which declined by almost 4% in value on a year-on-year basis to THB 14.28 billion (USD 439.5 million) during the first quarter of 2014. In quantity, however, the exports were marginally higher (+0.8%) through significant increases in shipments to Australia (+20.8%), Libya (+80.2%), Chile (+36.4%), the Netherlands (+14.3%) and Papua New Guinea (+232.8%), all of which somewhat compensated lower shipments to other major markets. A sharp drop in exports was reported to Egypt (-15.9%), Canada (-16.1%), the UK (-29.5%), Saudi Arabia (-20.9%), Tunisia (-35.9%) and Argentina (-33.9%).

Meanwhile the Thai Tuna Industry Association (TTIA) expects the country’s tuna exports to grow by 7% in value this year from 2013 levels of THB 86 billion (USD 2.65 billion). The main products are canned tuna and pre-cooked tuna loins with a combined export volume of more than 550 800 tonnes last year. To achieve this target, the TTIA is urging the government to speed up the free-trade talks with the EU to improve the country’s tuna product competitiveness by getting preferential tariffs. Currently the EU imposes a 24% tariff on canned tuna from Thailand, which is much higher compared than the US tariff (12.5%). There is currently no tariff for export to Japan or Australia.


Prices of tuna raw material for canning have firmed up in July and this trend is stronger for skipjack due to lower catches taking place in the Eastern and Western Pacific. This will impact imports of canned tuna in the traditional western markets.  In the non-canned market segment, summer demand was better both in Japan and in the USA.

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