Less bivalves in world trade in 2016


The report analyses the market situation over the year 2016 and the first quarter 2017.

World trade of bivalves contracted in 2016 for various reasons. Some factors include: the El Niño phenomena in Peru, which resulted in declining scallop exports, as well as red tide events in Chile that curtailed mussel production. In contrast, the outlook for 2017 is positive. Production is expected to be higher and with strong demand, prices are likely to stay high in the coming months.


So far for 2017, there has been excellent demand for mussels, with increasing prices at the world level. There has been strong production in the Wadden Sea, which will keep the Northern European market well supplied. Chile is strongly promoting its product in the US market, and is likely to expand its production and exports in 2017. About 200 000 tonnes of mussels are traded internationally every year, with Chile and Spain as the main exporters of this species, accounting for over half of total trade.

The production of mussels from Chile fell by 2.3 percent in 2016, totalling 276.900 tonnes, which represents around 30 percent of the total aquaculture production in Chile for the year. All mussels come from the region of Los Lagos, whose capital is the city of Puerto Montt. The decline in mussel production was expected to be even stronger, when a red tide hit the Puerto Montt area in the beginning of 2016 and a month long strike impacted production in May. Despite these challenges, production recovered strongly in the second part of 2016. The Chilean mussel sector aims at promoting the outstanding quality of Chilean mussels and coming from pristine waters under the “Patagonian mussel” brand.

In line with this decline in production, Chilean exports in 2016 were reduced to 67 400 tonnes, down from 69 700 tonnes in 2015. Spain, the USA and France were the main importers. The average unit value of exported mussels from Chile declined by 10 percent in 2015 to US$2.60 per kg, reflecting the strengthening of the US dollar. Not surprisingly, the import price in Spain was the highest at US$ 3.30 per kg, as the Spanish canning industry is demanding premium quality mussels.

Spanish producers, who used to mainly sell to the local canning industry, have now been promoting their products on the live mussel market in France and in Spain due to the challenges of competing with Chilean mussels. Market promotion of high-value Spanish products in the French market has been very successful. Meanwhile, production of certified mussels in the Galician sea is growing with Spanish canners now promoting Galician mussels in the Spanish market, highlighting the higher quality of a local product over an imported product. In 2016, Spain imported some 11 900 tonnes of frozen mussels from Chile, far less than the 14 400 tonnes imported in 2013. Spain also experienced a loss in export markets in 2016, likely due to positive developments in the domestic market, shipping only 50 000 tonnes, 15 percent less than in 2015. 

France is the world’s top importer of mussels. The French consumer prefers local products, but in several months of the year the local product is not harvested and local demand must be satisfied by imports. In 2016, imports reached 59 300 tonnes, a 5 percent increase over 2015. Spain and the Netherlands are the main suppliers to the French market, accounting for more than half of French exports.


Chilean production of oysters in the north totalled 3 300 tonnes in 2016, a 16.2 percent year-on-year increase. This rise was largely due to the recovery from the earthquakes on production in 2015. Compared with mussels, oysters are still only a minor player in total Chilean bivalve production.

In France, oyster production recovered in 2016 after a number of difficult years characterized by high mortality. France even managed to export some 1 500 tones of its production, mainly to China. It is interesting to note that China, with millions of tonnes of domestic oyster production, still imports French oysters to it market, likely due to their high-quality and positive image among well-off Chinese consumers. French oysters sell at the highest priced bracket, with an average unit value of US$10 per kg in the Chinese market.


China is the world’s major producer of scallops, producing around 1.6 million tonnes annually with all of the production consumed domestically. Scallops are also a highly appreciated food item in southern Europe and in North America, where most of the consumption is also domestically supplied. France is a bit of an exception, importing some scallops. However, imports of scallops into France have declined in recent years, from over 20 000 tonnes in 2012–2014 to only 13 200 tonnes in 2016. The main suppliers of scallops to the French market are Peru and the UK. The 2016 El Niño impacted scallop production in Peru. Exports of scallops to the French market had been 7 200 tonnes in 2014 but were reduced to 4 700 tonnes in 2015 and 2 500 tonnes in 2016. As the El Niño is now over, Peruvian production should return to normal and exports to the French market should also expand in 2017.


Asia is the main import market for clams, with the Republic of Korea and Japan as the top markets. Japan imported some 51 000 tonnes of live and fresh clams in 2016, a 4 percent increase over 2015. The main supplier was China, taking a 75 percent market share. The second major supplier is the Republic of Korea, which comprises about 25 percent of the market. The latter experienced some growth in shipments of clams to the Japanese market in 2016. The Republic of Korea is also a major importer of clams, though in 2016, the country reduced its imports by 13 percent (53 900 tonnes). China is practically the only supplier of fresh clams into the Republic of Korean market.


The demand for bivalves is expanding in all consuming countries. The image of bivalves as an environmentally friendly species and its well-known health benefits are creating an overall positive market atmosphere for bivalves. Also driving demand is the fact that consumers trust the sanitary security of the product and the overall value chain transparency. Prices are likely to increase in 2017, despite higher production reaching the export market. 

The report analyses the market situation over the year 2016 and the first quarter 2017.

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