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Crab - October 2015

Crab supplies are increasing, mainly as a result of illegal Russian production, and this may push prices further down.

Supplies

Globally, there are nearly 40 species of crab caught commercially. However, in statistics, many are not specified by the exact species, and consequently, the “other” group is extraordinarily large. Of the commercial species, the blue swimming crab is the most important, accounting for 7% of the total volume landed, followed by tanner crabs (4%) and dungeness crab (2%).

The Alaska crab fishery has been relatively stable with roughly 35 000–40 000 tonnes landed each year. 2012 was, however, an exceptional year, as total Alaska crab landings reached 47 220 tonnes. In 2013 the landed volume dropped to 38 000 tonnes.

Russian crab landings in the north Pacific are difficult to estimate because of what is believed to be major illegal activity. US sources (Alaska Seafood Market Outlook) claim that illegal Russian crab production decreased from 2007, causing prices to rise on world markets. However, starting in 2012 this illegal production likely increased again, and it is estimated that the illegal Russian production now exceeds total Alaska crab production. If illegal production is indeed increasing, prices would in turn be affected negatively.

Markets

The snow crab market, which has been weak on prices during the season, showed signs of recovering in May 2015. Prices for larger sizes are on an upward trend after low prices during the Alaska season. This turn of events has surprised many, but may be explained by a number of factors, such as the late Canadian season, the amount of product in cold storage from last year, the weaker demand in Japan, and the dollar exchange rates. Because of ice conditions, landings in Newfoundland had been low during the late part of the spring. The unfavourable yen exchange rate has not worked as an incentive for Japanese buyers to be active in the market.

Some observers are pointing to the weak economy as the main reason for the low demand for crab. Consequently, an upturn in the economy should bode well for the crab market.

The crab market in Northern Europe has benefitted from the high prices of coldwater shrimp. While the main crab season in Northern Europe is the late summer and autumn, crab meat is available year-round, and at favourable prices compared to shrimp.

International trade

International trade of crab products has been on a slightly declining trend over the past decade, and is now at about 340 000 tonnes per year. The main importers are the USA, which accounts for about 25% of global imports, and China, which accounts for about 15%. While US crab imports have been declining, Chinese imports have been increasing over the past decade. However, during the first quarter of 2015, US imports showed a slight increase (+3.4% by volume). The main suppliers to the USA are China, Indonesia and the Russian Federation.

Prices

In May 2015, it was reported that Japanese importers were buying snow crab from Newfoundland at record high yen prices (USD 4.65 per kg fob plant for brine bulk frozen sections). However, in dollar terms, the price was about 7% lower than compared with 2014 (Source: Undercurrent News).

Following the Alaska season, when prices were low, supplies became tighter, with prices increasing as a result.

Outlook

Crab supplies are expected to increase this year, and this could lead to weaker prices.

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