The EU Fish Market 2015 / by Francisco Blaha

This recent publication by the European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA) aims at providing an economic description of the whole European fisheries and aquaculture industry. It replies to questions such as what is produced/exported/imported, when and where, what is consumed, by whom and what are the main trends. For those of us that make a living of exporting there, is always interesting reading. Here are some of the things that grabbed my attention.

The EU confirmed itself as a major seafood consumption market with household expenditures of EUR 54,7 billion in 2013. This marked a 1% increase over 2012 – the highest amount ever recorded.

The EU is the largest trader of fishery and aquaculture products in the world in terms of value. EU trade – comprising extra-EU imports and exports, and intra-EU exchanges – has increased steadily over the past five years. In 2014, the trade flow amounted to EUR 45,9 billion and 13,8 million tonnes.

Apparent consumption per capita for 2012 was 23,9 kg, a 3% decrease from 2011. This downward trend has been seen since 2008, when per capita fish consumption amounted to 26 kg. EU consumers buy less seafood but spend more for it, which indicates a change in consumption preferences as well as fish prices.

Values of extra-EU imports have been increasing since 2009, at an average annual growth rate of 6%. In 2014, the EU imported fish and seafood for a value of some EUR 21 billion. Extra-EU imports of seafood are more than 4 times higher than meat in value, and this ratio is increasing.

Consumption in the EU market is dominated by wild fish. Farmed products represent 24% of EU total apparent consumption. Over 3 out of 4 fish consumed in the EU come from the wild.  

The EU is a net importer of fishery and seafood products, with a trade balance deficit (exports minus imports) that has been growing rapidly since 2009. The 2014 trade deficit was the largest ever at EUR 16.6 billion. This was primarily due to the growing import of shrimps, which increased by EUR 630 million between 2013 and 2014. 

The 2014 trade deficit was the largest of the 12 years analysed. This was caused by the growing imports of fresh and frozen products between 2013 and 2014, both of which peaked in that period, due mainly to remarkable import growth in the top six EU markets: Spain (+EUR 280 million), Sweden (+EUR 195 million), the Netherlands (+EUR 179 million), Italy (+EUR 140 million), the United Kingdom (+EUR 127 million) and Denmark (+EUR 96 million). 

Most of the growth in value is due to tropical shrimps and salmon, which increased by EUR 440 million and EUR 279 million, respectively. For tropical shrimps, the growth took place despite a remarkable 17% increase in prices. The 11% reduction in tuna import price led to values decreasing by EUR 260 million. 

EU self-sufficiency for seafood (production relative to internal consumption) reduced continuously between 2008 and 2011. From 2011 to 2012, it increased from 44% to 44,5%. Flatfish reported a remarkable loss – from 97% to 77% – due to a significant decrease in landings and an increase in imports of frozen products from China.

The EU expenditure for fishery and aquaculture products was lower than meat and other foods. It reached EUR 54,7 billion, around one-fourth of the EUR 216 billion expenditure for meat.

Retail prices of fish and seafood have grown steadily in the last years, but the growth rate has slowed since 2012. However, fish prices increased faster than meat and food over the period 2009-2014.

Canned tuna continued to be the most important product in terms of apparent consumption in 2012, with its 2 kg per capita. This was a 6% decrease from 2011, reflecting a decline of canned tuna imports in several EU countries, mainly Spain and Italy. 

EU imports of tuna and tuna-like species totalled almost 700.000 tonnes in 2014, worth EUR 2,5 billion. Among these, swordfish imports reach 18.000 tonnes, with a value of EUR 87 million. The major part of this commodity (73%) consists of “processed tuna”, which includes canned tuna (80%), and prepared and preserved loins (20%). About 23% of processed tuna imported in the EU originated from Ecuador at an average price of 3,87 EUR/kg. Thailand and Mauritius also were relevant suppliers, at average prices of 3,53 EUR/kg and 3,93 EUR/kg, respectively. As shown in the chart below, each had seen an upward trend between 2006 and 2012, but they reported decreasing values between 2013 and 2014, especially as concerns Ecuador.

Imports, which totalled 505.904 tonnes in 2014 for a value of more than EUR 2 billion, represented a strong decrease of EUR 282 million from 2013. This was in relation to a significant decrease in the average price, which fell from 4,53 EUR/kg in 2013 to 4,01 EUR/kg in 2014. The United Kingdom and Spain imported the most of canned tuna. Most UK imports originated from Mauritius (21.000 tonnes), at a price of 3,74 EUR/kg, while Spain imported the majority of its canned tuna (22.600 tonnes) from Ecuador, at a price of 3,45 EUR/kg.

According to the report on the Economic Performance of the EU fish processing industry almost 3.500 enterprises in the European fish processing industry in 2012 were registered, with more than 120.000 employees. Employment in the EU fish processing sector has decreased by 5% from 2008 to 2012. Italy accounted the largest number in terms of firms (16% of the total) while the UK reported the highest number of employees (around 20.000).
Compared to 2011, the European fish processing industry increased its income by 2% in 2012. Costs also increased by 4% in 2012. 63%-65% of the total costs regarded the purchase of fish and other raw material for production.