Prices to remain steady even as global seafood trade increases

Published on
February 21, 2018

This is the last article in a four-part series investigating the findings of "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2016," a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Part one, "Consumption figures reveal Latin America could become prized seafood market," appeared 9 January. Part two, "Capture fishery production maxed out," was published on 19 February, and part three, "Aquaculture producing the most seafood for human consumption," appeared on 20  February.

World trade in fishery products has grown significantly in volume and value in the past 40 years, and is expected to continue to do so through 2025 – assuming the overall economic situation globally remains stable.

However, high prices, slower growth of fishery production and stronger domestic demand will drive down the annual growth rate of trade in fish used for human consumption from 2.3 percent (the average between 2006 and 2015) to 1.9 percent (the expected average between 2016 and 2025), according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

World trade in fish for human consumption will reach 46 million tons in live-weight equivalent in 2025, up 18 percent from the average taken between 2013 and 2015, the FAO reported. Expected higher levels of trade are being driven by rising consumption of fishery commodities, the liberalization of trade policies, and technological advances in seafood preservation, processing, and transportation. 

Total global seafood consumption is projected to increase by 31 million tons by 2025 to reach 178 million tons. Global per capita consumption is expected to move up eight percent from 20.2 kilograms currently to 21.8 kilograms by 2025, with people in Asia, Oceania, Latin American, and the Caribbean accounting for the greatest increase in consumption. However, that growth will slow closer to 2025 as the effects of rising incomes and increasing availability of fish products are countered by the increasing cost of seafood compared with meat and chicken.

The FAO reported global seafood exports hit USD 148 billion (EUR 123.4 billion) in 2014 and are expected to rise along with demand. The bulk of growth in exports is projected to originate in Asian countries, which due to their increasing production of aquaculture products, is expected to account for 67 percent of the additional seafood exports by 2025. By that year, the top three countries ranked by total amount of seafood exports by weight will likely be China, Vietnam, and Norway, according to the FAO. Imports are expected to rise in Europe, Japan, and North America, as well as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brazil, and select countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Currently, developed countries primarily trade amongst themselves, with 78 percent of fishery exports moving between countries classified as developed. However, international trade patterns are shifting so that developing countries will play a larger role in the seafood marketplace, due both to increased sourcing from and processing capabilities in those areas, as well as a projected rise in trade between developing countries. However, the type of products traded will vary considerably by developmental level, with developed countries importing and exporting higher-value products and species, while developing countries are increasingly importing lower-value products and exporting higher-value species, in general.

Despite increased demand, fiercer competition, reduced production and marketing costs, sluggish global economic growth, and fewer trade barriers will drive down prices for seafood by 2025. The average price of traded fish products is expected to decline five percent in nominal terms and about 23 percent in real terms by 2025. Real prices from capture fisheries are expected to decline by about 13 percent, and real prices of aquaculture-sourced seafood is expected to decline by 17 percent through 2025, according to the FAO. Also by 2025, the average prices for fishmeal and fish oil will be 14 and three percent lower in nominal terms and 30 and 21 percent lower in real terms, the FAO forecasted.

Numerous uncertainties could affect these predictions, the FAO warned. The potential for drastic changes in catch quotas; the outbreak of disease; illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; overcapacity of fishing fleets,; and poor fisheries governance could all negatively affect the FAO predictions, not to mention the potential that geopolitical forces affecting the overall economy could bleed into the seafood trade. 

The FAO also points to the effects of climate change – including greater variability and extremes in weather events, the rise of sea temperatures, alterations to ocean circulation, and chemical changes in the ocean including salinity, oxygen concentration, and acidification) could all affect catch quantity and composition, the organization said.

“The next decade is likely to see major changes in the environment, resources, macroeconomic conditions, international trade rules and tariffs, market characteristics, and social conduct,” the FAO said in its report. In a separate section, the report added, “The future of the sector, being influenced by internal and external driving forces, is complex and uncertain.”

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