Is bass, bream aquaculture turning the corner?

Published on
April 19, 2010

With the European Seafood Exposition just days away, the Selonda Group’s proclamation that market prices and profitability of sea bass and sea bream will increase over the next few years couldn’t have been better timed.

When announcing the Greece-based fish farmer’s 2009 results last week, including a 13.5 percent year-on-year turnover increase to EUR 136 million (USD 183.1 million), CEO John Stephanis said that, “After three very difficult years,” the Mediterranean aquaculture indsutry was returning to normal supply and demand conditions.

If Stephanis’ vote of confidence is proved correct, this is just the shot in the arm that the bass and bream industry needs. For all intents and purposes, this sector has been in the doldrums since the turn of the millennium, with many producers blaming large harvests and the subsequent poor farm-gate prices for their dismal financial performances.

Any turnaround will come as a direct result of tighter supplies. Quantities of both fish have steadily fallen over the last two years due to the closure of a number of unprofitable production companies, as well as a marked decrease in the amount of fingerlings being put into the water.

This combination has pushed prices up in recent months. Small sizes (300 to 400 grams) of both species on the Spanish wholesale market Mercamadrid are currently priced at around EUR 5 (USD 6.73) per kilogram. Prices of larger fish are considerably higher.

While increased prices will be much-welcomed by Selonda and other fish farmers, it isn’t clear what these companies are doing to safeguard a long-term return to form.

A recent peruse of the European Seafood Exposition exhibitor list, available online, threw up at least 20 European sea bass and sea bream companies, and many attendees at the show will be eager to learn what these operations’ longer-term strategies are.

As consumer products, their fish are enjoyed, even prized, by many Europeans. But with consumption relatively static and most traditional Mediterranean markets slow to emerge from recession, what are these businesses going to do to win over new markets?

For most European bass and bream producers, generic marketing is fairly uncharted territory, but there is a strong case for it becoming the industry’s No. 1 priority.

Such a move won’t go unchallenged. Salmon producers, for example, despite an anticipated reduction in output over the next two years, will be looking to further their geographical penetration.

Many of these have the support of the Norwegian Seafood Export Council (NSEC), created by the country’s Ministry of Fisheries in 1991, which has spent millions upon millions of kroner on promoting farmed salmon to new markets.

NSEC employs representatives in key markets all over the planet and promotes campaigns in stores and restaurants, and advertises in local media. It also proudly claims that 27 million meals of Norwegian seafood, much of which is farmed salmon, are served worldwide every day.

It will also be fascinating to gauge the reaction at the Brussels show to Marine Farms’ new Vietnamese-farmed cobia and the new traceable tilapia “Trapia,” launched by Trapia Malaysia Sdn Bhd. Both, over time, could inspire a long-term shift in consumption. One thing is for sure, next week’s show should be one of the most intriguing and enlightening in the event’s recent history.

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Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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