Spain, Italy imported more cooked loins than a year ago

by Thomas Jensen

Yellowfin tuna frozen at -60 degrees is being up cut up into more manageable chunks. The fish is imported from Asia, Africa, or other parts of the world.

During the third quarter of 2015, frozen skipjack prices increased strongly by almost 50%, but started to decline in October. In the first half of 2015, the sashimi tuna market in Japan remained weak. For the first time in history, US imports of air-flown fresh tuna were higher than that of Japan something that could become a common feature in the future as well. For canned tuna, export earnings suffered in Asia and Latin America during the first six months of the year, as traditional markets in the USA and EU remained lacklustre. Import growth only persisted in the Middle Eastern markets.

Fishing was average in the Indian Ocean with raw material inventories at local canneries reported to be at healthy levels. Prices increased in Abidjan, which were lagging behind other markets; more competitive prices of raw material led to higher exports to the European markets. In the Eastern region of the Indian Ocean, lower catches of bait fishery (mackerel) in the Maldives have affected the country’s pole and line based tuna fishery during the first half of 2015 with reduced landings reported. In Japan, total tuna landings was marginally lower (- 0.6%) to total 72 172 tonnes during January-March 2015 compared with the same period last year. However, there was a substantial rise in fresh tuna landings (+64%) from coastal waters. During this same time period, frozen tuna landings from the distant water fishery fell by nearly 11% to 56 679 tonnes, primarily due to lower landings of skipjack and albacore tuna.

Lower catches, area closures, reduced effort contribute to rising prices

Lower worldwide tuna catches in the main fishing regions led to rising prices in the international market during the third quarter of 2015. Indeed, the delivery price of frozen skipjack from the Western Pacific to Thailand increased from USD 900 per tonne in June to USD 1 450 per tonne in September this year. This strengthening price trend was bolstered by the World Tuna Purse Seine Organization’s decision to reduce fishing efforts by 35% from 15 May to 31 December 2015 in an effort to stop prices from weakening. In addition, there was a four-month long FAD fishing closure in Western and Central Pacific implemented from July to October 2015. In the Eastern Pacific, landings have decreased due to a general slowdown in fishing and the IATTC ‘veda’ closure that ended on 28 September 2015. Local canneries were holding moderate inventories of raw material. Tuna prices in Ecuador stabilized between USD 1 250-1 400 per tonne as a result of low demand for canned products in the import markets. Canned tuna producers in South America are also uncertain about the potential consequences of the devaluation of various currencies versus the dollar, which makes exports from Ecuador more expensive.

USA imports more fresh tuna than Japan for first time

Favourable summer weather helped to bolster strong demand for fresh and frozen tuna steaks/fillets in the US market this year, particularly at the household level for outdoor cooking. Retail prices of fresh tuna steaks, generally originating from Pacific waters, ranged from USD 10.00-16.00 per pound in US supermarkets this summer with demand highest on the west coast. During the first half of 2015, US imports of fresh/chilled tuna were higher than Japan, coming to a total of 11 300 tonnes. In comparison, Japan imported only 8 401 tonnes of fresh tuna during the same period. However, total US imports of fresh/chilled tuna were marginally low (-3%) during the first six months of the year due to reduced catches of yellowfin tuna in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The main suppliers to the US market were Trinidad and Tobago, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Thailand. Notably, US imports of higher value fresh bluefin and bigeye tuna increased during the first half of 2015, compared with the same period last year.

Huge decline in Japanese imports of fresh tuna over six years

Examining half yearly trade trends in the past six years, imports of fresh tuna into Japan have declined by a notable 50%. From 17 000 tonnes during the first half of 2010 to just 8 400 tonnes in the corresponding period this year. Consumption of fresh tuna is declining both at home and in the restaurant trade in Japan. The market preference for sashimi quality frozen tuna remains stronger than for fresh tuna due to frozen tuna’s longer shelf life. Nonetheless, imports of the preferred bigeye and yellowfin frozen tuna during the first half of the year were lower than compared with the same period in 2014, reflecting the falling demand pattern in the world’s largest sashimi tuna market.

Extra-EU imports of fresh tuna during the first half of the year declined from 2 056 tonnes in 2014 to 1 099 tonnes in 2015. Among the total, yellowfin was the main species group (1 549 tonnes) largely supplied by the Maldives (65%). Imports of frozen tuna loins/fillet, however, increased from 7 007 tonnes during the first half of 2014 to 8 397 tonnes during the same time period this year. The top three suppliers were Viet Nam (2 020 tonnes ), the Republic of Korea (1 855 tonnes) and Ecuador (1 069 tonnes).

Canned tuna import movements mixed in main markets

Following a decade-long trend, the top six largest import markets for canned tuna during the first half of the year were the USA, Spain, Italy, France, the UK and Egypt. Import trends among these importers were mixed. The USA, Italy and France reported declining imports, whereas imports increased in the other three markets. Total EU imports of prepared tuna (canned tuna
and cooked loins) from non-member countries remained stable during this period. In terms of exports, Thailand, Ecuador, Spain, the Philippines and China were the leading five suppliers of canned/prepared tuna to the international market. Exports declined from all countries except China.


The declining export trend for canned/processed tuna continued in Thailand during the first half of 2015. Export volumes weakened by -8.3% compared with the same period in 2014. There were reduced exports to the EU, the USA, Japan and Australia. Supplies increased to Egypt and to the Middle Eastern markets of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Qatar as well as to Brazil (+26%) and Panama. Thailand’s total export value of canned/processed tuna during the first half of 2015 declined by 18% to total USD 1 billion compared with USD 1.17 billion during the same period in 2014. The most recent trade data from Ecuador was available only for January to May 2015, and demonstrated a 9% decline in canned and cooked tuna export volumes compared with the same period in 2014 to total 70 808 tonnes. However, import data from the main markets demonstrated an increase in shipments to the EU (+21%) and a 30% rise in deliveries to the USA.

The thawed tuna is processed into steaks or loins and packaged for the Spanish market.

Thailand, China, the biggest exporters of canned tuna

Among the other leading producers and exporters of canned tuna in the first half of 2015, exports from Spain fell by 0.61%, by 30% from the Philippines and by 8.5% from Mauritius. China exported more cooked loins and canned tuna during this period with total exports increasing by 5% to 37 261 tonnes compared with January-June 2014. There was a significant 76% rise in cooked loins exports from China to Portugal but exports to Spain fell 55% against the same period last year. There were higher exports of canned tuna from China to Russia, Cuba and Chile. Imports of both canned and pouched tuna into the USA were lower in the first half of this year indicating a fall in consumer demand. Canned and pouched tuna imports totalled 99 862 tonnes, a drop of 5% compared with the 104 822 tonnes imported during the same period last year. Thailand remained the top source but with a 13.6% fall in supply, followed by China (+7%), Ecuador (+30%), Viet Nam (-4%) and the Philippines (-4%). Compared with the same time period last year, there was a 20% increase in cooked loin imports from China during the reporting period.

During January-June 2015, extra-EU import volumes of canned and processed tuna increased marginally by .06% but in value-terms declined by -18% compared with the same time period in 2015. In terms of the total supply from third countries, imports increased marginally from Ecuador, the top supplier, to total 51 258 tonnes. This increase could be attributed to higher imports of cooked loins by Spain and Italy. Imports from Thailand declined by 33% to total 24 208 tonnes but increased by 26% from Indonesia ( 12 795 tonnes) and by 17% from Papua New Guinea compared with the same period last year. There was a 35% rise in exports from Côte d’Ivoire to the EU market during this period.

Imports of cooked loins into the EU fell by 5% in the first half of 2015 compared with the same time period last year, with cooked loins taking a 29% share of total processed tuna imports into the EU. The shares of skipjack and yellowfin in total cooked loin imports during January-June 2015 were 45% and 17% respectively.

Cooked tuna loins re-processed in Europe

Spain, Italy, France and Portugal are the main re-processors of cooked loins in the EU. During January-June, imports increased significantly in the Spanish market (+33%) as well as in Italy compared with the same period last year. Indonesia emerged as the leading supplier of cooked tuna loins in the Italian market. For canned and pouched tuna, imports into the UK and Germany increased by 8% and 21% respectively. However, for the Netherlands and Belgium, imports declined by 20% for each. France and Italy imported less during the first half of this year with supplies dominated by Spanish products.

In the Asia/Pacific region, Japan and Australia are two important markets for canned tuna. During the first half of 2015, imports into Japan totalled 25 330 tonnes, a 6.8% increase in comparison with the same period last year, which could be attributed to the cheaper raw material prices. Australian volume imports were stable at 25 000 tonnes. The markets in Southeast Asia remained weak with lower imports in Malaysia and Singapore. In the Middle East, the volume of canned tuna imports increased into Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and also in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries.

Demand for canned tuna in EU, US unlikely to improve

In the short-term, tuna supplies are expected to be low to moderate, although landings in the Western and Central Pacific increased slightly in September while the FAD closure ended on 31 October. To keep tuna prices stable in the global market, the Purse Seiners Association will continue to limit their fishing efforts until the end of the year. However, Thai canneries currently have sufficient raw material with moderate levels of production. Additionally, since October, tuna packers in Ecuador have been reporting falling demand from Latin American markets. As a result, price weakening is expected until the end of the year, particularly for skipjack. Catches around the Eastern Indian Ocean have been low, impacting the pole and line fishery in the Maldives, for which prices will remain stable. Indonesia is expected to export less raw tuna for canning and produce more processed tuna, such as loins for exports. The act
ual demand for canned tuna in the traditional markets of the US and EU is unlikely to improve much even though current prices of skipjack are showing some weakening trends. Asian producers/exporters will focus more on the Middle East and emerging markets.

© FAO Globefish

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