Tuna - April 2014


General increase in catches for first three quarters of 2013, though fishing has slowed in some areas. Overall demand and prices mixed.

During December 2013–January 2014, raw tuna consumption improved in Japan following increased supplies of farmed bluefin tuna and a general subsequent price weakening. Tuna for the canned market remains quiet although the price for frozen skipjack fell to a three year low at USD 1 375 per tonne in January 2014.

Overview: Production and pricing

Since the last quarter of 2013, purse seine caught tuna landings in the Western Pacific improved following the end of the periodic fishing ban. With demand continuing to weaken in Bangkok, frozen skipjack prices dropped to USD 1 375–1 400 per tonne CFR in early January 2014, reaching a three-year low that allowed fishing operations only to break even. Skipjack were exported to Eastern Pacific canners at better prices. Current landings of large sized skipjack (for canning or katsuobushi processing) at the Yaizu port in Japan have been very low.

Fishing in the Eastern Pacific has been mixed with the ex-vessel price of skipjack weakening to USD 1 700 per tonne, Manta, creating concern among importers. Meanwhile, prices for large yellowfin are about USD 2 400 per tonne.  Annual IATTC figures for 2013 reveal a 2% (+ 11 170 tonnes) increase in catches for all tuna species compared with 2012.

Vessels in the Indian Ocean have reported mixed results as well, mainly noting catches on FADs. With some processors still closed during the year-end holiday season, vessels were transhipping their catches to other markets. The skipjack price has slipped down to EUR 1 000 per tonne and yellowfin to EUR 1 875 per tonne, FOB Mahe.

Fishing in the Atlantic Ocean has slowed. In Abidjan, though the ex-vessel skipjack price has fallen further to EUR 1 050 per tonne, the ex-vessel yellowfin price has increased to EUR 2 025 per tonne.

As the European markets return from the holidays, price quotes stand at about EUR 1 100 per tonne CFR Spain for skipjack and EUR 2 150 per tonne CFR Spain for yellowfin. The market price for cooked, double-cleaned yellowfin loins remains at USD 8 500 per tonne DDP Italy.

At The Western and Central Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting in December 2013, the following measures were announced:

From 2014 to 2017, a 40% progressive reduction of bigeye tuna catches by long-liners.

From 2014 to 2017, a 3-month ban imposed on FAD for purse seiners, followed by a 50% reduction in FAD usages or another 3-month ban on FAD fishing.

Creation of a framework to reduce large purse seine fishing.

Japan: General decrease in landings

Half yearly tuna landings from the coastal tuna fishery from January to June 2013 reflect increased catches of fresh bluefin tuna, fresh skipjack and frozen bigeye compared with the same period in 2012. However, landings of all other species decreased. Given these decreases, general supply of tuna was likely to be down during October–December 2013.

Reports from Japan predict a 10% rise in farmed bluefin tuna production in the Atlantic and Pacific regions for 2014.

Japan: Strong holiday demand for sashimi, but overall demand and prices mixed, general decline in imports during first three quarters of 2013

December 2013–January 2014 demand for sashimi has been strong and supplies are dominated by bluefin tuna from local and imported sources. Large supplies of bluefin, however, affected prices of fresh/chilled bigeye with bigeye prices declining by 30% during the high consumption season in December 2013, compared with December 2012.

Fresh tuna demand weakened in mid–January but demand for frozen tuna is better. This demand is from supermarkets that sell various sashimi packs for household consumption. During late December 2013, auction price for frozen bigeye was yen 850 per kg, yen 150 per kg higher (+21%) than December of the previous year.

With rising import costs and general falling demand for sashimi grade tuna in Japan, imports have been significantly affected. For instance, the average ex-vessel price of the popular bigeye tuna, which is marketed in frozen form, has increased due to reduced fishing in the Indian Ocean and lower catches in the Western and Central Pacific. These trends have resulted in a 9% decline in total imports of all fresh and frozen tuna, including loins and fillets. In fact, during January–September 2013 total imports were 159 825 tonnes compared with 175 428 tonnes during the same time period in 2012. This decline was most pronounced in the whole/dressed tuna category; frozen loin imports were relatively stable. 

Household expenses on tuna increased in Japan following the rise in average tuna prices, particularly for the popular high quality bigeye tuna. The cost of dining out also increased by 17% in 2013. Sashimi tuna consumption was lower during the summer months due to the unusual hot weather throughout Japan.

In recent news, on the first day of 2014 trading, Tokyo’s Tsukiji market auctioned the most expensive fish so far of the year. The 230 kg bluefin caught off Ooma, in Aomori prefecture, was auctioned at yen 7.36 million. The successful bidder was the owner of the large sushi restaurant chain, Sushi-Zanmai, in Japan. General trends at Tsukiji demonstrated a 5% fall in sales volume in September 2013 compared to September 2012, but a 6% rise in prices. Tuna was one of the most important categories in this trade. On average, the wholesale price of tuna increased by 12% per kg in the last two months. The market also imported 17% less seafood during the January–September 2013 period.

Japan: Frozen tuna loin imports decline in 2013

Frozen tuna loin imports into Japan during January–September 2013 fell 3% (-557 tonnes) compared with the same time last year due to reduced exports from Fiji, Indonesia, and France who are among the top five suppliers. Imports increased from the top two suppliers, the Republic of Korea and China, as well as from Viet Nam. Loin exports from India, which were mainly yellowfin, also increased compared with 2012. The total number of tuna loin exporting countries to Japan fell from 19 during 2012 to 17 in 2013.

Imports of frozen bluefin loins, mostly from the Mediterranean, were 8 628 tonnes during this period. 

China: Sashimi demand slows, profitability for the processing industry becomes difficult

Considering the high seafood consumption rate in China, Japanese tuna trading houses (such as Maruha) began efforts to promote consumption of sashimi tuna in China but were met with disappointing results. The market for sashimi tuna in China grew from 1 500 tonnes in 2003 to 10 000 tonnes in 2009 but increased only to 12 000 tonnes in 2012. This more recent slow growth seems to be due to competition from fresh salmon.

China has expanded its tuna fishing fleet in foreign waters. However, the rising fishing and processing costs associated with increased labour, fuel cost and land processing facilities, has increased production costs making the processing industry not as competitive. There are 18 to 19 on-shore plants in China with a capacity to process 40 000 tonnes tuna, which have ultra low (-60 degree Celsius) freezing facilities. However, less than 30% of these facilities are currently being utilized.

China’s export’s of frozen tuna loins to Japan has increased in recent years. During January–September 2013, Japan imported more than 3 000 tonnes of frozen tuna loins from China compared to 2 300 tonnes during the same time period the previous year.

USA: Demand for non-canned tuna remains stable

Over 27 300 tonnes of fresh and frozen tuna (dressed) and tuna loins (excluding cooked loins for canning) were imported into the US market during January¬–September 2013. Among that volume, 16 600 tonnes were air-flown fresh/chilled, which is a marginal increase compared with the same period in 2013.

The popularity of frozen tuna loins continues in the non-canned market segment, which had an 80% share (8 535 tonnes) in imports of frozen non-canned tuna (10 735 tonnes) during the first three quarters of 2013.

In January–September 2013, the USA also imported 35 546 tonnes of cooked tuna loins for processing pouched/canned tuna, compared with 30 783 in the respective time period in 2012.

USA: No real growth reported in 2013

The US market for canned tuna remained stagnant in 2013.  NOAA reported that in 2012, per capita consumption of canned tuna reached a record low at 2.4 lbs, a decrease from 2.6 lbs in 2011. Optimism about revival of the market diminished as demand weakened further in the second part of 2013. However, during the first six months of 2013, imports of canned and pouch tuna grew by 12.2% in quantity, but the growth slowed in the third quarter. As a result, for the first nine months of 2013, the quantity imported to the USA grew only by 0.5%.

As demand for popular tuna in brine products flattened, tuna packers introduced a variety of convenience products targeting high-end market segments to absorb increasing production costs. StarKist the largest canned tuna marketer in the US, for example, launched a new tuna pouch product called ‘Ranch flavoured Tuna Creations’, which requires no draining. Growing demand for high value products has also had positive impacts on imports of pouched tuna, which posted positive growth by 6.4% when comparing January–September 2013 with January–September 2012.I Imports of canned tuna category declined by 1.2%.

Meanwhile, there has been an attempt to review the USDA’s “Buy American” rules on tuna, particularly for the school-lunch market to allow more suppliers to enter the market. The current rules require that USDA buy only canned tuna that are entirely processed and packed in US run facilities. The USDA annually purchases about USD 20 million worth of canned and pouched tuna.

Europe: Strong growth continues

Many European buyers are still waiting for better deals, expecting canned tuna prices to drop further along with the declining skipjack price. In general, the market movement has been slow at the beginning of 2014 but is expected to improve from February onwards when importers, particularly from Germany and France, begin buying.

Across Europe last year, the market posted positive growth reflected by increasing imports. For the first ten months of 2013, canned tuna imports into the EU from countries outside the EU (third countries) increased by 11% in volume and almost 27% in value compared with the same period of 2012, totalling 328 190 tonnes worth around USD 1.91 billion. The top three largest suppliers into the EU were Ecuador, Thailand and Mauritius, with all three countries significantly increasing their shipments by 15.6%, 34.8% and 6.9% respectively.

Ecuador took over the Philippines as the number one exporter in the German market, supplying 66% more during January–September 2013 than the same time period in 2012. Ecuador managed to extend its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) agreement with the EU and continues to enjoy a 0% duty status for its canned tuna until 31 December 2014.

Thailand is also in the negotiation process to seal a free trade agreement with the EU that will allow its canned tuna to get a preferential tariff, which has been strongly opposed by the Spanish tuna industry. Nevertheless, Thailand managed to ship more products to the EU during the reporting period, especially to Germany (+63.6%), the UK (+69%) and France (+14%).

Major brand owners in Europe aggressively introduced new products in orders to stay ahead of their competitors, particularly supermarket brands. Princes, the UK’s biggest producer/marketer of canned tuna, has reported better sales last year as a result of the introduction of new products and market expansion to other countries outside the UK. The French company Saupiquet introduced tuna fillets packed inside a club can available in a choice of natural, extra virgin olive oil, lemon, rosemary and parsley.  A canned tuna company in the UK, John West, launched two new ‘no drain’ canned tuna products with attractive labelling colours: green for basil flavouring and red for garlic.

Meanwhile, the long wait for certified MSC’s eco-label for canned tuna from the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) waters has come to an end. Pacifical, a partnership between the (PNA) and a Netherlands based marketing enterprise, has delivered its first certified canned tuna on the shelves of SPAR supermarkets in Austria under its private brand.

In the pre-cooked loin trade, imports into Spain and Italy also posted positive growths last year. Papua New Guinea shipped more loins (+57.5%) to Spain while Italy bought more from Ecuador (+19.8%).

Thailand: Lower Exports in 2013

Falling skipjack prices and weakening Baht have given some advantages to the Thai Tuna industry; some packers have already reported higher profits during the last quarter of 2013. The trend is expected to continue this year provided the country can resolve the current political problem in the near future.

Due to the high raw material cost and sluggish demand in some major markets, canned tuna exports from Thailand posted negative growth by 4.3% in quantity and 5.6% in value during the first nine months of 2013 against the same period of 2012. Exports to the major markets such as the USA, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia were significantly lower, which could not be compensated by higher shipments to Japan (+8.7%), the UK (+188.8), Syria (+85.3%), Chile (+34.9%) and France (+26.9%).

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