GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Prices of raw tuna firmed up in April


International trade for canned and processed tuna posted positive results during the first quarter of 2021. However, the weak market trend continues for fresh and frozen tuna for direct consumption, which command higher prices than canning raw material.


According to the Status of the Stocks report published by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF ) in March 2021, 87.6 percent of the commercial tuna catches worldwide continues to be sourced from stocks at “healthy” levels of abundance, 9.6 percent came from overfished stocks, and 2.8 percent came from stocks at an intermediate level of abundance. In 2020, tuna catches in the major fishing grounds remained stable while some price increases occurred for frozen tuna for the canning following increased demand for end products in the global canned tuna market.

Raw Material Imports

During the 2020 review period, tuna raw material imports increased in most of the large processing countries in Asia and Europe. Compared with 2019, imports in Thailand were 18 percent higher at 800 000 tonnes, including 42 815 tonnes of cooked frozen loins (+20 percent). In the Philippines, imports of frozen skipjack (mostly used to produce canned tuna) increased by 3 percent to 110 520 tonnes. Meanwhile, frozen yellowfin imports declined by 22 percent to 45 000 tonnes due to weak demand for non-canned tuna in the international trade. In Europe, Spanish tuna canners imported less whole/raw tuna (-8 percent; 159 100 tonnes) as domestic landings increased, but more cooked frozen loins (+8 percent; 107 600 tonnes) for reprocessing in 2020. Cooked loin imports also increased in Italy (+20 percent; 43 100 tonnes), Portugal (+41 percent; 12 000 tonnes) and France (+6.8 percent; 8 550 tonnes).

Fresh and frozen tuna market (non-canned)

The COVID-19 pandemic halted the decade long growth of non-canned tuna trade worldwide. The damaging impact was profound particularly for fresh tuna used for making sushi/sashimi and for other food preparation in up-scale western style restaurants and hotels. Exports of fresh tuna were also hampered by the shortages of scheduled passenger flights between sources and overseas markets. Japan The prolonged pandemic crisis reduced consumption of sashimi tuna in Japan. Many businesses ranging from popular sushi shops to up-scale seafood restaurants, closed down in 2020 due to lack of business. Sales of fresh tuna (local and imported) in particular were hit hard due to reduced sales in the catering trade. Imports of fresh tuna reached a historically low in 2020 at only 8 500 tonnes, down by 27 percent compared with 2019. However, overall imports of fresh and frozen sashimi grade tuna including loins remained stable at 171 755 tonnes, on par with the volume imported in 2019.

To make-up for shortfalls in business, some intermediate wholesalers (who normally sell to retail stores and high-end restaurants) have started direct sales of ‘ready-to-eat’ raw tuna slices in takeaway style tray-packs to individual customers, making these products available through on-line and in person purchases. Many restaurants are also selling fresh and frozen sushi online, a trend that started in mid-April last year, and this type of sales have been brisk since.

United States of America

Non-canned tuna imports flourished in the US market during the last 8-10 years and its share in total tuna imports reached 25 percent in 2019. That share dropped to 17 percent in 2020 because of waning in the restaurant business during the COVID-19 crisis. In 2020, imports of fresh and frozen tuna including fillets fell by 23 percent compared with 2019. Declines were significantly large for fresh tuna (-28 percent; 12 390 tonnes) and for frozen fillet/steaks (-18 percent; 33 265 tonnes). Although retail demand increased during the year, it was not enough to offset short-falls in the foodservice sector.

Other Markets

Contrary to the trends in Japan and US markets, imports in the European Union were positive for frozen tuna fillets/steaks. The top importers were France, Spain, Italy, and Germany. Compared with 2019, imports from the extra-EU sources increased by 1.7 percent to 26 000 tonnes in 2020 and the leading suppliers were Viet Nam, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Ecuador and the Maldives.

In the Russian Federation imports decreased for frozen tuna fillet (-38 percent; 3 535 tonnes) but increased in Ukraine (+42 percent; 555 tonnes). Imports declined in Canada, Switzerland, Turkey due to falling tourism and catering trade. In East Asia, the Republic of Korea was the second largest import market for frozen tuna fillets after Japan, and imported 6 200 tonnes (+8 percent) in 2020. The market preference for the Mediterranean origin bluefin is strong, largely supplied by Italy, Morocco, Spain and Malta. However, imports declined in Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong SAR and other regional markets.

Canned tuna trade

This shelf-stable but affordable protein, was possibly one of the very few fishery products that enjoyed good demand worldwide during the pandemic crisis. Although demand suffered during the early months of 2020 because of the acute falloffs in the catering trade, rising home consumption seemed to have filled up demand gaps and kept the global market strong.


Canned and processed tuna exports increased from Thailand, Ecuador, China and Spain, with their ranking in the international trade remaining unchanged during 2020.

Exports of cooked frozen loins increased from China, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands destined to the canneries in Europe and Thailand.


Home consumption of canned tuna increased during the pandemic period and boosted international and domestic trade for this product group worldwide. However, demand remained weak in the foodservice sector throughout 2020. Consumer demand for canned/pouched tuna and similar product groups increased in the large traditional markets and also in the emerging and niche markets worldwide during 2020.

North and South America

In the United States of America, which is the world’s single largest import market for this product group, there was a 22 percent rise in processed tuna imports. Imports increased from the top suppliers that is Thailand (+30%), Viet Nam (+1.6%), Mexico (+180%) and Indonesia (+5%), but declined from Ecuador (-6%). Colombia remained the second largest import market in the Americas, where Ecuador had a 72 percent market share. Canadian imports increased by 8.5 percent to 36 643 tonnes. Thailand dominates this market with an 80 percent market share. Annual imports also increased in Peru (+24 percent), Chile (+28 percent), and Argentina (+7.8 percent) which helped Ecuador’s export boost to the regional markets. Imports in Brazil continued its negative trend.


Canned tuna sales increased in the European Union market, in favour of European/regional producers. Imports of canned and processed tuna in the European Union totalled 804 000 tonnes in 2020 (including 179 030 tonnes of cooked loins), a 7.5 percent increase compared to 2019. The top importers were Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and France. Although there was a 2.5 percent rise in imports from extra-EU sources, the share of extra-EU in total imports declined from 72 percent in 2019 to 68 percent (545 073 tonnes) in 2020 due to reduced imports of tuna for direct consumption.

Outside the EU, imports increased in Switzerland, Ukraine, but declined in the Russian Federation and in Norway in 2020. Asia / Pacific and Others The MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region was one of the main target markets for canned tuna of Asian producers. Although imports in Egypt weakened, the others regional countries (Saudi Arabia, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar) imported more canned tuna in 2020 compared with previous years. In the Pacific, imports in Australia, a market for higher value canned tuna, declined in 2020. Imports increased in most of the medium and small scale markets in the East and south Asian regions. Prices In general, international prices of non-canned tuna in 2020 were less affected for frozen loins, saku and steaks compared with whole/dressed and chilled or frozen tuna. In Japan, the auction prices of fresh local bluefin were 20-30 percent lower than in 2019 because of the dull restaurant trade. For canning raw materials, the average price of frozen whole skipjack was 15 percent higher at USD 1 355 per tonne during the review period. There has been some softening in prices during January- March 2021 at USD 1 285 per tonne for delivery to Bangkok. The comparative ex-vessel price was USD 1 700 per tonne in Manta, Ecuador and USD 1 250 per tonne in Seychelles.


During the first quarter of 2021, tuna landings were low to moderate in the major fishing zones, while raw material demand was stable from canneries worldwide. Frozen skipjack prices increased in April, compared with March. Thai canners continue to procure more cooked loins for which imports increased by 20 percent during January-February 2021. This trend is likely to continue. Raw material stocks are currently moderate in Ecuadorian canneries with stable prices of skipjack and yellowfin. However, the price differential between skipjack prices in Manta and Bangkok remains unusually wide at USD 350 per tonne. Canneries in Ecuador are facing low buying interest from Europe. In Europe, frozen skipjack and yellowfin prices increased in April due to shortages in the Atlantic Ocean. Prices of cooked skipjack loins also increased. During the first quarter of 2021, international trade for processed tuna mirrored the positive trend of 2020 in most markets. January-February 2021 imports of canned tuna increased in the United States of America (+21 percent) and Canada (+6 percent). In Asia, the trend is similar in Japan and other markets. In Japan, the Spring festival season of April–May brought some hope for a consumption boost in the domestic sashimi tuna trade. However, consumers remain cautious in view of the continued pandemic scare. It is expected that restaurant businesses will remain limited in 2021.

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