GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

COVID-19 cuts oyster demand

07/01/2021

Bivalve trade has been severely affected by COVID-19, but while lower priced species are recovering in the second half, oysters were the most severely impacted. The bivalve industry is again at a turning point, as there is some concern that the "second wave" of COVID-19 in Europe may depress demand. However, bivalve producers and traders have adapted quite quickly to the changing environment and are better prepared now for eventual lockdowns all over Europe. Buyer focus has shifted towards convenience seafood products and towards delivery services, especially for live bivalves.

Producers have started to grow their bivalves for longer periods of time and are not restocking the aquaculture areas. Compared to other aquaculture producers, bivalve growers do not need to feed their brood, so the product can stay in the water, to wait for a recovery in the market.

Mussels

Trade of mussels during the first half of 2020 declined sharply when some 120 000 tonnes were imported, 15 percent less than in the same period of last year. France continued to be the main importing country of mussels in the world but reported a 33 percent drop in imports. This sharp decline was due to the closing of restaurants.

Prices of mussels declined in the second quarter of the year, but recovered strongly during the summer period, as restaurants reopened and reported good sales during the holiday season. However, the COVID-19 situation is now changing again. On 5 October the Paris region was declared a maximum alert zone, therefore restaurants can stay open with a reinforced sanitary protocol which will be reviewed after two weeks. This revival of partial lockdown should once again have an impact on the French mussel market.

Chile, despite social unrest and logistical challenges experienced during the COVID-19 crisis, continued to be the main mussel exporter in the world, even managing to expand sales. In the first half of the year, Chile exported some 47 200 tonnes, an 8 percent increase over the same period of 2019. Spain and New Zealand, the other major exporters, however, reported lower shipments in 2020. The latter was especially hit by logistical problems, caused by the COVID-19 and had difficulties to get its green mussels to the global market.

Clams

During the lockdown period (March-May) prices of clams were about 20 percent lower than last year’s price level. However, during the summer period, when restaurants and holidays resorts reopened, demand for clams was very strong, and prices of clams returned to 2019 price levels. Trade in clams is mainly an Asian affair, with Japan and the Republic of Korea as main markets, and China as main exporter. Trade of clams slowed down by 10 percent in the first half of the year, compared with the same period of last year. As Japan and the Republic of Korea were successful in fighting COVID-19, the impact on clam trade is likely to become less important. In fact, trade wasabout stable in the second quarter of the year, and is likely to recover in the closing months of the year.

Scallops

Scallop trade was only marginally impacted by COVID-19. As a matter of fact, trade in the second quarter of 2020 increased, in line with recovery of Chinese demand for scallops.  China continues to be the main importing country, after the setback in the first quarter of the year.

Total imports of scallops in the first half of the year reached 29 000 tonnes, even a small increase over the same period of 2019, driven up by huge imports in May and June. Peru, which had reported a good recovery of its scallop production and exports last year, reported a 20 percent decline of exports in the first half of 2020 when compared with the same period of 2019.

This decline was due to the fact that Peru has been one of the Latin American countries hardest hit by the pandemic during the second quarter of the year. The United States of America, during the first half of 2020, reported small increases in scallop imports. The domestic production of scallops was disappointing during this year, while demand was quite strong. As a result scallops were selling for an average price of USD 11.80 per pound in October 2020, which is almost double the price in June 2020. This strong demand and high price is reviving imports, and in the second half of the year US imports will likely expand strongly.

Oysters

Oysters are considered a festivity product, and a luxury treat when going to restaurants. The lockdown of restaurants in Europe led to a sharp drop in demand. Some of this uncertainty is reflected in trade figures, even though oysters are generally staying close to their production place. Imports in the first half of 2020 were 22 800 tonnes, a 22 percent decline over the same period of last year. The United States of America, the main importer of the product, is reporting stable imports. However, European imports declined by more than 50 percent, due to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

Outlook

The Gross Domestic Product in southern Europe is projected to decline by more than 12 percent in 2020, and demand for high-end bivalves, especially oysters, will remain depressed. However, low-end products, such as mussels, are likely to experience good market conditions. New delivery formats, such as direct sales from the farm to the consumer, will likely continue during the COVID-19  period, and probably beyond. This is especially true for the younger generations, and these new types of delivery might open up new consumer groups, especially if the bivalves are sold as ready cooked items. However, this direct marketing may lead to sanitary problems and control issues, which have to be taken into account by national standard food control systems.

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