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GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Global seafood trade expansion slows despite continuing production growth


Global trade in fish and fishery products is expected to show a return to growth for 2016, although the forecasted total of US$140 billion traded is still below the 2014 total of US$148.3 billion. However, due to the significant strengthening of the US currency versus many other major currencies over this timeframe, these US dollar figures must be interpreted with caution when attempting to identify underlying supply and demand trends. Indeed, the rate of increase in global production of fish and fishery products is expected to remain steady at 5 percent in 2016, suggesting that growth in the world’s appetite for seafood is continuing unabated. Aquaculture is still responsible for the entirety of production growth, already accounting for the majority (53 percent) of the fish we eat directly and, if current trends continue, set to overtake capture fisheries in absolute production terms by the year 2020.

In line with the upward trend in production volumes, global annual per capita consumption of fish has been increasing at around 1 percent per year, and is set to reach 20.5 kg per capita per year in 2016. However, it is notable that the total volume of traded seafood has remained approximately flat for the last three years at 60 million tonnes live weight. This points to the increasing importance of domestic markets in major producing countries, particularly those in developing regions of the world. The development is both the natural result of rising incomes and the associated increase in expenditure on proteins as well as a consequence of government-led policies to redirect domestic catches to domestic markets. The reservation of the costal regions of anchoveta fisheries for artisanal fleets in Peru and the Nigerian issuing of seafood import quotas are examples of such policies.

However, as expansion in seafood trade in developing countries slows, developed markets and producers are once again leading growth as both importers and exporters. Europe, in particular, is expected to show significant increases in total value traded in 2016, reflecting revitalized consumer demand as slow but steady economic growth is maintained. Another factor driving up value is high prices for some key species such as cod, salmon, cephalopods and small pelagics. The vote in the UK to exit the EU has not had a significant impact on the country’s seafood trade yet, although the depreciation of the pound has inevitably decreased the purchasing power of importers and boosted competitiveness for exporters.  

On the exporter side, Norway is the major beneficiary of the improved economic situation and the upward price trends, given its position as a major supplier to the EU market and a major producer of cod, salmon, herring and mackerel. Meanwhile, prices for tuna and shrimp, two major export species of developing countries, have demonstrated some upward tendencies on global markets but are still well below historical highs. Price trends for other highly-traded species have been mixed in 2016, with cephalopods continuing a strong upward trend and scallop prices soaring while tilapia prices declined. In Peru, El Niño has negatively impacted the anchoveta fishery with exports for fishmeal and oil dropping in 2016. The net result is a projected 3 percent increase in total export value out of developing countries, and a 5 percent increase for Asia. 

Going into 2017, environmental factors have limited the supply of a number of important species, both wild and farmed, and this should keep prices up in international trade, particularly considering the global demand outlook. Analysts are predicting a continuing slow economic recovery in the euro zone and relatively low but steady growth in the USA and Japan, while the Russian Federation and Brazil are also seemingly on track to lift themselves out of recession.

Combined with strong regional demand in other emerging economies around the world, the outlook for the world’s seafood markets in 2017 can be described as cautiously positive. However, demand is also a function of the marketing efforts of the relevant stakeholders, and industry leaders from a number of seafood sectors in different parts of the world are increasingly calling for more coordinated and focused marketing and product development strategies at a national and/or regional levels. The importance of this kind of collective cooperation has long been understood at the resource management level, but there is still scope to fully realize the benefits of this approach on the market side as well. 

The report analyses the market situation over the period January-December 2016

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