While EU seafood exports are in the ascendance, the growing appetite for seafood among European consumers continues to elevate the importance of imported products, writes Jason Holland.
Growing consumer awareness of the health and other benefits is among the foremost drivers of increased seafood consumption in the EU, the world’s largest market for fishery and aquaculture products.
According to the latest review of seafood trade trends by the European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA), to meet the EU-28’s almost insatiable demand for products, its supply – comprising domestic production and imports – has continued to grow.
EUMOFA’s analysis finds that in 2018, EU imports from third-countries increased by 4% in volume and 2% in value over the previous year, reaching 6 million tonnes with a value of €25.9 billion. Of these imports, salmonids (€5.8 billion), crustaceans (€4.8 billion) and groundfish (€4.5 billion) were the most imported commodity groups, representing 58% of the total extra-EU import value.
The main contributors to the overall increase were groundfish (€203 million more), fish for non-food use (+€189 million) and cephalopods (+€151 million). Meanwhile, the largest decrease in value was recorded for crustaceans, which fell by 3% or €154 million year-on-year, mainly due to the fall in warmwater shrimp prices. An 18% or €100 million decrease in value was also observed for bivalves and other molluscs and aquatic invertebrates.
Of the total volume of products imported, groundfish experienced by far the largest increase, growing by 110 million tonnes, or about 40% of the total increase for all products.
The EU imports fisheries and aquaculture products from nearly 150 countries around the world, but in 2018 almost 50% of the total value was sourced from only five countries: Norway and China with €6.5 billion and €1.8 billion respectively, and Ecuador, Morocco and Iceland with €1.3 billion each.
In terms of species, the EU’s standout import is Atlantic salmon, which dominates the salmonid commodity group. Conveniently located, Norway supplies most of this fish – last year providing 716,000 tonnes of the fish, valued at €4.7 billion. This represented a 9% increase in volume, a 6% rise in value, and accounted for 83% of the EU’s total salmon imports.
Largely thanks to Scottish production, the EU is also a salmon exporter. However, the bloc’s exports to overseas markets fell by 7% to 80,500 tonnes last year. These shipments were valued at €640 million. EUMOFA attributes this decline almost entirely to a decrease in shipments to the United States, which is the EU’s largest salmon market.
Exports to the States in 2018 totalled 24,000 tonnes worth €212.7 million, a decrease of 25% in volume and 22% in value from a year earlier. The volume sent to China also declined last year – to 10,900 tonnes (-4%), although the value increased 1% to €84.1 million.
Overall, EU exports to third-countries grew rapidly last year – up by 5% in volume and 4% in value to 2 million tonnes valued at €5.1 billion. This growth was largely driven by tuna and tuna-like species, which increased in value by 15% or €101 million over 2017.
EUMOFA highlighted that skipjack tuna exports to markets outside the EU reached 186,600 tonnes, up by 34% over 2017, with a value of €287 million (+10%). Spain, Italy, Germany, and France are the largest producers of skipjack tuna products, including tuna harvested by member states’ fleets in distant waters for delivery to foreign tuna processors..
Other commodity groups with significant gains included crustaceans with an increase of 17% or €77 million year-on-year, groundfish up 14% or €51 million, and an 18% or €33 million rise in the cephalopod value.
The largest declines in EU exports were experienced by salmonids, which registering a drop of 7% or €53 million, and small pelagics which were down 4% or €26 million year-on-year.
Of the 182 countries to which EU exports were destined in 2018, five markets accounted for 48% or €2.5 billion of the total export value. EUMOFA notes that exports to China grew by €170 million in 2018, but that sales to the EU’s second largest market, the United States, fell by 4%. Value gains were also seen in exports to Switzerland (+4%), Norway (+3%), and to Japan (+20%) over 2017.
In volume terms, last year’s leading export markets were Nigeria, Norway, China, Egypt and Ukraine, which together accounted for 45% of shipments. Exports to Nigeria grew by 60,000 tonnes or 24% over 2017 levels. At the same time, exports to Norway climbed by less than 1%, and those to China rose by 12%. The only decline amongst the leading markets was in Egypt, where EU exports fell by 10,400 tonnes or 8%. EU exports to Ukraine grew by 14% compared to the previous year.
Last but not least, seafood trading between the 28 member states continued to slightly exceed imports from non-EU countries, growing by 3% in volume and 2% in value to 7 million tonnes and €27.3 billion. Salmonids are the most traded species among EU member states, with the 2018 volume totalling 1 million tonnes valued at €8.4 billion, with salmon accounting for 974,100 tonnes and €7.8 billion.
The groundfish commerce reached 993,000 tonnes and €3.6 billion, followed by crustaceans at 343,000 tonnes worth €3.1 billion.
The largest increase in intra-EU export values was seen in salmonids, which grew by 6% or €475 million. In volume terms, this trade increased by 9% or 90,000 tonnes over 2017. Groundfish also registered significant gains, up by 9% in volume and 4% in value from the previous year.
EUMOFA also highlights that the skipjack trade between EU member states has risen significantly in recent years. In 2018, these volumes reached 181,500 tonnes with a value of €797.1 million, up by 9% in both volume and value compared with 2017, and from 2016 by 21% and 31% in volume and value, respectively.
Its analysis identified that those member states accounting for the largest overall gains in intra-EU trade include some of the most active EU traders. Poland had the largest increase in 2018 intra-EU exports with a gain of 46,000 tonnes or 14%, valued at €232 million (+19%).
The Netherlands, with the so called “Rotterdam effect” caused by the large number of EU member states’ goods that arrive in Dutch ports, was next with an increase of 14% in volume and 6% in value. Italy followed with an increase of 2% in both export volume and value.
Despite the higher rise in intra-EU and third-country trades, brought by modest production growth, the region’s trade balance in fisheries and aquaculture products continues to run ever deeper into the red. In fact, this trade deficit reached a record €20.8 billion last year, an increase of 2% compared with 2017. Measured in volume terms, the shortfall grew by 4% to 4 million tonnes. And with no dramatic shift expected to the seafood landscape, EU nations will have to look increasingly beyond their own borders to satisfy the rising local demand.
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