Enthusiastic reopening of restaurants in Europe


The successful vaccination campaign in Europe led to the reopening of restaurants. As a result, demand for bivalves increased greatly. Prices of this product, which normally are rather stable, went up in all outlets, including the retail sector. However, after this euphoric period, there are some worrying signs for the future. France’s decision to allow restaurant visits only with the Green Pass in August, that is for people who have been vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 or have done a COVID-19 free test, create problems for the restaurant trade, which in turn will impact the bivalve sector.

Brexit impacts bivalve trade in Europe

The EU bivalve market is impacted by Brexit. With UK mussel producers starved of income and European consumers denied a product, the European Union has reiterated that its ban on shellfish imports from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is permanent. The situation is complex. Essentially, leaving the European Union on 1 January 2021 meant the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland had to play by new rules. The European Union states that live bivalve molluscs (or mussels, oysters, clams, cockles and scallops) that are imported into the European Union must either come from unpolluted waters (classed as A) or be purified before being sold. Most UK waters are class B, not because they are no less clean than EU waters, but because they are simply classed differently. Before Brexit, British producers would send these foods to what were then other parts of the European Union to be purified at depuration plants before being sold to consumers.


The second quarter resulted in higher prices in all main trading areas. In France, the wholesale price for mussels went up by EUR 0.10 per kg, for the first time in history. In Italy the retail price reached EUR 3.99 per kg, while normally this price is close to EUR 1.99 per kg. Total trade in mussels in the first three months of the year was about stable at the low 2020 levels, with about 64 000 tonnes traded. The main importing country was France, where the local production is generally low in the opening months of the year. Spain, the main exporting country to this market, managed to double its exports during this period, compared with the same period of 2020. Chile was the main mussel exporting country and reported stable exports. Chile is mainly supplying the Spanish canning market with frozen raw material.


Oyster producers had a very difficult time during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The sector in France experienced very low sales, and was enthusiastic about the reopening of the sector. Clients are going to restaurants and are generally in a festive mood, opting for expensive and exclusive food items such as oysters. In addition, social gatherings such as weddings and communions, which had been suspended during the lockdown, reassumed, with oysters on offer as a special treat. Oysters are generally not an international trade item. Trade during the first three months of 2021 recovered from the difficult 2020, some 14 000 tonnes entered international trade, with France as main exporter. This country reported a 30 percent increase in export performance. Oyster prices stayed stable, as it is a product of the highest price category, with little possibility of increase.


Trade in scallops recovered well from the 2020 results. Some 10 000 tonnes of additional scallops entered international trade. China was both the main importing and exporting country of this product. Peru reported a great performance, doubling its exports to the world market. Surprisingly, these additional quantities were not directed to the traditional outlet for Peruvian scallops, the European Union. Prices of scallops increased impressively during the past months.


Clam prices increased impressively in Italy. Retail prices reached EUR 19.00 per kg for Japanese carpet shell (Ruditapes philippinarum), while normally this product sells at EUR 10.00 per kg. Similarly, the wild venus clam is selling at EUR 7.00 per kg in the Italian market, while last year the price level of this species was around EUR 3.00 per kg.

Japan and the Republic of Korea are the main importing countries of clams, with China as main supplier. In the first three months of the year, imports declined somewhat for these two importers. Overall trade in clams stayed stable at 66 000 tonnes in the first quarter of the year. Surprisingly, Italy doubled its exports of clams, though staying at very marginal levels (2 500 tonnes exported in the first quarter of 2021).


For the bivalve market, everything depends on the development of the new variant of COVID-19. If the situation remains calm and the vaccination programme is effective, the demand for bivalves will grow, and prices are likely to go up quite substantially. In the case that new lockdowns are needed in Europe and also in other regions, it is likely that the bivalve market will again be impacted in a negative way.

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