Bluefin prices rise on higher feed costs

Published on
June 23, 2011

The price of Japanese farmed bluefin tuna is rising in response to higher fishmeal prices.

Peru, the world’s largest supplier of fishmeal and fish oil, exported just 61,800 metric tons of fishmeal in March, compared to 115,600 metric tons in 2010, a decline of 46.5 percent, according to the Statistical Bulletin of the Ministry of Produce.

This sharply contrasts with the favorable supply outlook in January, when landings of anchovy for the fishmeal industry reached 408,600 metric tons, compared with 219,400 metric tons in the same month of 2010. Warmer sea temperatures are to blame for the decline — Peru’s National Meteorology and Hydrology Service said water temperatures have been about 3 degrees Celsius higher than normal, and an El Niño weather phenomenon is possible if the trend continues.

International Monetary Fund commodity price reports show that, worldwide, fishmeal has generally fluctuated in the USD 1,060 to USD 1,080 range since December 2009, peaking at USD 1,960 per metric ton in April 2010. This reflects stronger overall demand for fishmeal, as China increases its aquaculture, as well as more demand for smaller fish for human consumption.

From July 2006 to April 2009, the price had been in the range of USD 1,000 to USD 1,030, while for several years prior it had been in the range of USD 600 to USD 700 per metric ton.

Thus, Japanese aquaculture companies have suffered high feed prices throughout the two- to three-year growth period of the current bluefin harvest. But they have had difficulty passing these costs to consumers, who prefer the taste of wild tuna to the fattier farmed product. If the price gap narrows too much, buyers opt for the wild product.

Tuna prices had been on an upward trend in the early year, but with rolling blackouts in Tokyo after the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, sales of fresh bluefin at the Tsukiji market fell sharply, both because of refrigeration concerns and because dining out declined. However, the blackouts have ended until summer air-conditioning use peaks in July and August, and demand is rebounding. This has allowed tuna to resume its price climb.

Meanwhile, Japan’s domestic catch of tuna may be reduced by vessel and infrastructure damage at ports in northeast Honshu Island. This may allow the general price to rise further, and for the farmed product to gain a total of around 20 percent from May to end of June. The wholesale price of bluefin has already gone up approximately 10 percent from May at the Tsukiji wholesale market, to the JPY 3,300 to JPY 3,500 per kilogram range.

Japanese amberjack and sea bream farmers are likely to follow suit with an approximately 20 percent rise expected. Prices for amberjack are now at JPY 1,200 to JPY 1,500, while sea bream sells for about JPY 1,000 per kilogram.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500