New market for tilapia

The report analyses the market situation over the year 2016 and the first quarter 2017.
African markets imported an average of 83 000 tonnes of whole frozen and breaded tilapia in 2016.  Asian and Latin American markets continue to absorb much of their own domestic tilapia production, as it remains an affordable source of protein. The EU markets remained depressed in 2016, however imports for premium quality tilapia increased.


With production problems in 2016 due to severe winter weather, total exports of tilapia stayed stable, amounting to 393 000 tonnes. Interestingly, frozen fillet exports declined by 4.5 percent to 146 400 tonnes, although it remained the main product exported. This decline was compensated for by increase of 0.14 percent and 8 percent in the whole frozen and breaded category. African markets were the main destination for these two tilapia products. Approximately 64 percent of Chinese whole frozen tilapia exports went to African markets in 2016 and 17 percent of Chinese breaded tilapia exports.

The USA and Mexico are the two largest markets for Chinese tilapia, although year-on-year exports declined to the USA in 2016. Iran has emerged as the third largest market for Chinese frozen tilapia fillet, growing by a significant 53 percent in 2016 to reach 16 400 tonnes.


The market weakened in 2016 both in volume and value largely due to the significant decline in supplies of Chinese frozen tilapia fillets. China supplies about 73 percent (143 700 tonnes) of total US tilapia imports. However, imports of whole frozen tilapia increased from China, with US preference for whole frozen keeping imports of this category firm. China and Taiwan Province of China are the main suppliers of whole frozen tilapia to the US market.

In terms of prices, the average import price declined by 20 percent for frozen fillets and 15 percent for whole frozen in 2016 compared with 2015. Demand is now growing due to strong sales expectations during the Lent season, with a likely increase in imports in the first quarter of 2017. Improved production from China in 2017 due to milder weather has also strengthened growth in US imports.

Latin America

2016 was a difficult economic year for Brazil. The decline in the economy and purchasing power of consumers brought significant issues for tilapia suppliers. In addition, the rising unemployment rate affected the availability of skilled labor and thus the productivity of the entire value chain. The recession continued into 2017.

An increase in the costs of Brazilian production was reflected in the growing prices of whole tilapia. The average price of whole tilapia was R$14.00 per kg in the third quarter of 2016 and rose to R$14.66 per kg in the fourth quarter. Frozen fillets also followed this growing price trend, with prices for frozen fillets going from R$35.31 per kg in the third quarter to R$34.59 per kg in the fourth. For fresh fillets, price stability between the third and fourth quarter was observed in most markets.

Adding to these challenges - the Brazilian state of Ceará, one of the largest producers and consumers of tilapia in Brazil, experienced a serious water crisis during the last half of the year. This crises inevitably affected production and as a result, reduced the supply of the market.

In Honduras, domestic consumption of tilapia was about 3 600 tonnes in 2016 according to the Secretary of Agriculture and Livestock. In terms of trade, Honduras remains the leading fresh tilapia fillet exporter to the US market in Latin America. During 2016, 9 100 tonnes were exported, worth US$60 million.

In Mexico, the government seeks to expand programs and actions related to the production, processing and consumption of Mexican tilapia. According to the Agro-Food and Fisheries Information System, 128 000 tonnes were produced last year, of which 12 000 tonnes in live weight (9 percent) were destined for exports. The main producing states were Chiapas, Tabasco, Guerrero, Estado de México and Veracruz.


Total imports of tilapia into the EU during 2016 were lower by -15 percent in volume to total 34  400 tonnes. The largest suppliers, China and Viet Nam, supplied 10 percent and 17 percent less during 2016 compared with the previous year. Despite depressed overall demand, demand is firm for premium tilapia as reflected in the higher imports of frozen tilapia fillets from Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan Province of China. Frozen tilapia fillets from these countries are known to be premium quality meaning higher prices when compared to imports of frozen fillets from other origins. Average import prices of frozen tilapia fillets in 2016 from these sources were US$6.20 per kg (Indonesia), US$6.10 per kg (Thailand) and US$13.30 per kg (Taiwan Province of China).


Tilapia is a popular species consumed throughout Asia, mostly as whole fish. Trade is largely in live or fresh/chilled fish with some frozen products. Tilapia is also widely available in other forms, namely fillets and steaks. Bones and heads are also popular products. Most countries in Asia are producers of tilapia with production largely being channeled to their domestic or regional markets.

At the fresh fish market in Singapore in February 2017, fresh/chilled domestic tilapia was sold at US$4.80 per kg while frozen, sashimi-quality tilapia fillets from Taiwan Province of China was priced at US$3.20 per kg. Live black and red tilapia in supermarkets were priced at US$4.20 per kg. The average import price of frozen tilapia fillets in January 2017 in Singapore was US$4.46 per kg; 23 percent higher than the same period in 2016 while the average import price for whole frozen tilapia weakened slightly to US$1.00 per kg.

African markets are clearly poised for further growth, while demand is expected to remain firm in Asia and Latin America.

For the USA, Lent demand will result in positive growth in imports during the first quarter of 2017.  In general, prices are not likely to see much increase, especially as production levels have already started growing in China.

The EU market looks positive for premium tilapia, although this product is unlikely to ever develop into a significant market. As in the USA, Lent demand should bolster EU tilapia imports during the first quarter of 2017.
Tilapia development projects: Fiji and Belize

In an effort to scale up the tilapia industry in Fiji to a commercial level, a brood stock management training was held to assist the key players in the industry, including farmers and Fiji's Ministry of Fisheries. The training was provided by the EU, funded by the Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) project, which is expected to strengthen tilapia production to help grow the market. In Fiji, there are about 303 active tilapia farmers and this number is expected to increase.
A five-year long investment by Taiwan Province of China in Belize’s aquaculture industry is expected to help over 100 tilapia farmers and hundreds of other unemployed people across Belize. Beginning in 2012, a US$5 million investment worked to develop a tilapia hatchery to produce 150 tonnes of fingerlings per year. The project also developed and delivered training workshops on how to sustainably produce and market the best quality farm-raised tilapia.
The report analyses the market situation over the year 2016 and the first quarter 2017.

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