Home > In Action > Projects > GLOBEFISH - Analysis and information on world fish trade > Market Reports > Resource-detail
GLOBEFISH - Analysis and information on world fish trade

Production for bivalves lower in 2016


Toxins in seawater and disease put a stress on bivalve supplies in 2016. Though no official statistics are yet available, it is likely that the main producing countries have experienced output declines. Prices have been sky high. Demand during the Christmas season was strong in Southern Europe. Everything will come to a halt in the opening months of 2017, as bivalves are not a traditional item for the Chinese New Year.

For 2016, several toxin occurrences in bivalves troubled the markets. These started with a red tide in Chile, so called because of the distinct colour of the seawater – red or purple – indicating the presence of toxins, which can accumulate in molluscan filter-feeders such as oysters and clams. If contaminated bivalves are ingested, this toxin can lead to an illness called Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning. The red tide severely impacted mussel production in the south of Chile during the June–August period. During this phenomenon, the collection of bivalves was prohibited, creating a strong economic loss for Chilean producers.

In September and October 2016, the US East Coast experienced an unprecedented wave of closures from high levels of toxins in the waters. At the end of September, Maine’s mussels and clams were impacted by a widespread and abundant bloom of phytoplankton, commonly known by the name of domoic acid. This is the first time in history that this type of toxin occurred on the East Coast, while the US West Coast is quite familiar with this type of outbreak. Fortunately, the water could be reopened in mid-October, but consumers were scared away, and the sector reported economic losses.

Apart from toxins and red tides, which are well-known problems the bivalve industry has been facing for centuries, there are some more recent problems that have impacted bivalve production. Disease in oyster aquaculture wiped out production in France six years ago, and production there remains far below what it used to be. In the long-term, ocean acidification from climate change will impact bivalve production, with studies demonstrating that natural mussel beds will disappear due to ocean acidification.


2016 has been a very difficult production year for France, the main oyster culturing country in Europe. In some areas, oyster production has fallen by as much as 80 percent compared with six years ago. As a result, wholesale prices of oyster are at a record high at €10.00 per dozen, which compares with less than €6.00 per dozen in 2008, when the oyster crisis began in France. France remains the main oyster exporter in the EU, mainly supplying neighbouring countries. Oysters continue to be a luxury item, and the present price hike has not led to a decline in demand. In contrast, demand has only strengthened. Despite the difficulties of the industry with respect to production, exports increased by 20 percent in the first nine months of the year when compared with the same period of 2015.


Atlantic scallop fishers in the USA are looking towards an optimistic future. It is estimated that for 2017, production will achieve 21 500 tonnes, 18 percent ahead of 2016 landings. During 2018, the prospects are even better, as catches are projected to be 32 000 tonnes, a notable 51 percent jump from 2017. With this quick supply growth, prices are expecting to decline, with total economic benefits in the range of US$585 million in 2017, about 12 percent ahead of 2016 values. Most of this additional production will stay domestic, although some quantities will reach the export sector, with France as the main market.

World trade of scallops declined slightly in the first nine months of 2016, mainly due to lower buying interest from China and France. Despite the decline of imports, (totaling 37 400 tonnes, down from 51 000 tonnes in January to September 2015) China continues to be the main importer of scallops in the world, mainly in frozen form from Japan. Indeed, 96 percent of Chinese scallop imports are from Japan. The USA is the second major import market for scallops, despite the strong domestic production, with 18 700 tonnes imported in the first nine months of the year, a 20 percent increase over the same period of 2015.


Chile is one of the main mussel producing countries in the world. As earlier reported, the red tide created difficulties for the industry in 2016, which was closed for almost a month during the Chilean winter. Total production during the first nine months of 2016 totaled 230 000 tonnes, 5 percent less than in the same period of 2015. Chile exports almost all of its mussel production, between 65 000 and 70 000 tonnes per year.

Spain is still the main importer of frozen mussels from Chile, but in recent years, Chile has diversified its markets, with the USA, France and Italy recently emerging as strong importers of Chilean mussels. The reduction in production in 2016 obviously resulted in lower exports, thus Chile lost its market share in the Spanish import market. Total Chilean mussel exports to Spain in the first nine months of the year were 10 500 tonnes, down 6 percent from the same period of 2015. Consequently, Chile’s market share in Spain declined from 66 to 57 percent.


The price differential between farmed and wild-caught clams is significant, with the majority of clams now coming from aquaculture. Tunisia is one of the main supplying countries of wild clams to the Italian market. During the Christmas period, when clams are an integral part of traditional Italian dishes, these clams can reach a price of EUR 24 per kg, while the competing cultured clam is selling at about EUR 5 per kg.


FAO assisting clam collectors in Tunisia

For several years, FAO has been working with local associations of female clam collectors to to help get them organized and be able to obtain a better price margin on their collected clams. Currently, the collectors only get 5 percent of the final consumer price. The end goal of these efforts is for the clams they collect to become certified as a fair-trade product and enter the Italian market with this important certificate.

Gulf of Gabes - Women collecting clams in the sea shallows


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


Share this page