GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Cephalopods trade impacted by COVID-19


While international trade in octopus remained relatively stable in 2020, squid trade recorded declines for most major countries. Only the Republic of Korea imported more than in 2019. In Europe trade is slower and the industry is hoping for a re-opening of tourism. Much will depend on whether the COVID-19 pandemic can be controlled through a global vaccination programme.


While international trade in octopus remained relatively stable in 2020, squid trade recorded declines for most major countries. Only the Republic of Korea imported more than in 2019. In Europe trade is slower and the industry is hoping for a re-opening of tourism. Much will depend on whether the COVID-19 pandemic can be controlled through a global vaccination programme. Octopus Due to tight supplies and low cold storage holdings in Europe, octopus prices were rising at the end of 2020. The supply situation was not helped by Mexico, which had the worst season in a decade. Octopus landings in Yucatan registered a 50 percent decline in volumes. In 2019, about 16 000 tonnes were caught by the end of October. In 2020, the corresponding figure was just 8 000 tonnes. Strong demand from Japanese buyers and Spanish processors were noted in January 2021, leading to price increases of several euros per kg. Last year, octopus prices dropped significantly during the summer as a result of COVID-19 restaurant closures. But since then, consumption has risen again, especially of cooked products, not only in Spain but in several European markets. Moreover, retail sales have increased as foodservice mostly remains closed. Prices are growing despite the fact that quotas for this season in Morocco have been increased by 19 percent to 28 800 tonnes. The season ended on 15 April 2021. Supplies from Mauritania and Senegal, however, have been much poorer. The weak catches in Mauritania have led authorities to request a 3 – 4 month closure of the fishery. In December 2020, octopus landings in Mauritania were dramatically lower than in December 2019: landings went from 4 883 tonnes in December 2019 to just 654 tonnes in the same month in 2020. As demand in the retail sector is strong and expected to remain so for months, one would expect that prices would also remain strong, but observers are uncertain about this. Prices will depend on a number of factors, including development of fishing in Northwest Africa, and on whether or not the COVID-19 containment measures in Europe will continue.


Viet Nam’s imports of small frozen octopus in 2020 amounted to 22 106 tonnes, which was the third highest volume reached in ten years. Prices were high, too. The average import unit price for 2020 was USD 6.12 per kg, the second highest in ten years. Imports of frozen octopus into the Republic of Korea went up by a modest 2 percent in 2020, to 24 322 tonnes. The major suppliers were China, Viet Nam, Thailand and Indonesia. Imports of octopus into the Republic of Korea fell sharply in January and February 2021 compared to the same months in 2020. In fact, total imports during these two months were 66 percent below the same period last year. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, EU imports of frozen octopus from Morocco increased by 11 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, to 34 185 tonnes. However, Moroccan unit value prices went down by 12 percent so the import value stood at EUR 243.45 million (USD 292.1 million).

Japanese imports of octopus (all types) in 2020 were relatively flat, with a 5.3 percent increase compared to 2019. Total imports amounted to 44 871 tonnes. The two largest suppliers, Mauritania and Morocco, both showed increases in shipments: Mauritania by 15.7 percent to 14 064 tonnes, while Morocco by an impressive 63.7 percent to 11 776 tonnes. China, on the other hand, suffered a setback as exports to Japan dropped by 17.3 percent to 8 357 tonnes. Squid Members of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) met in January 2021, but failed to agree on measures to limit the fishing of giant squid in the South Pacific. The European Union proposed to implement fishing limits, and Ecuador proposed rules which banned at-sea transshipment. However, the delegations from China, Taiwan Province of China, and the Republic of Korea strongly opposed these proposals. Illex squid catches by Argentina picked up in March following a period of low landings due to bad weather. As of 3 March 2021, total landings amounted to 50 928 tonnes, which was 4 percent higher than during the same period in 2020. Catches off the Falklands were also up albeit a small increase (+4 percent by mid-March). A large Chinese fleet of jiggers is fishing alongside the Argentinian fleet, and every month the Chinese fleet catches about 90 000 tonnes. This goes back to China as well as to other markets in competition with Argentinian squid. This activity is in direct competition with the Argentinian fleet, and the Chinese fleet is operating right on the 200 mile limit.


While octopus trade stayed fairly stable during 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, squid and cuttlefish trade suffered setbacks in most major markets. Only the Republic of Korea increased its imports. After a year with significant increases in imports of squid and cuttlefish in 2019, China’s imports of these commodities dropped by 21.2 percent in 2020, to 306 658 tonnes. Of the major suppliers, only Argentina showed an increase in shipments. China’s exports of squid and cuttlefish fell by 8.3 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, to 444 043 tonnes. The largest market, Japan, imported some 8.4 percent less from China (95 219 tonnes), while Thailand and the Republic of Korea both increased imports from China, by 39.9 percent and 14.4 percent, respectively. Argentina saw a significant increase in its squid exports during 2020. The export volume was up by 72 percent to 144 736 tonnes, while the export value increased by 84 percent to USD 385.9 million. US squid imports fell to 50 408 tonnes in 2020, down by 23 percent compared to 2019. Import value also dropped, by 24 percent, to USD 239 million. Imports from China, which is the largest supplier and accounted for 43 percent of total US squid and cuttlefish imports in 2020, declined by 34.4 percent. During the first quarter of 2021, US import volumes increased marginally (by 3.2 percent to 13 084 tonnes compared to the first quarter of 2020). Prices increased so that the total import value went up by 6.3 percent.

Spanish imports of squid and cuttlefish continued to slide in 2020, and ended up at 256 368 tonnes, down by 11.7 percent. The largest suppliers were Peru, the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, and Morocco. The Republic of Korea was the only major market that registered increasing imports of squid and cuttlefish in 2020, with imports increasing by 13.1 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, to 175 472 tonnes. China was the major supplier, with 62 526 tonnes (up 15.5 percent compared to 2019), followed by Peru (down 5.7 percent to 54 226 tonnes) and Argentina (201 percent up to 14 055 tonnes).


The outlook is uncertain and somewhat mixed, to say the least. For octopus, some observers expect strong sales as soon as restrictions on restaurants are lifted. Prices for octopus may rise as a result of a rather tight supply situation and in response to growth in demand. For squid and cuttlefish, the situation may be slightly different. Trade volumes were down in 2020 and supplies in 2021 are still somewhat uncertain. If COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and tourism returns in the Mediterranean region, demand could rise significantly during the summer holidays. Prices are also likely to rise again.

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