Can pangasius keep up the pace?

Published on
September 15, 2009

According to a recent report by the European Union’s Advisory Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture (ACFA), in the past 10 years there has been unprecedented growth in farmed pangasius production, especially in Vietnam, which has gone from virtually nothing to raising more than 1 million metric tons of the fish per year.

According to “The place of pangasius in the European seafood market,” 80 percent of the world’s catfish supply now comes from Vietnam, Bangladesh and India.

Vietnam exported more than 600,000 metric tons of frozen pangasius fillets in 2008, up 50 percent from the previous year, worth USD 1.4 billion (EUR 953 million). More than one-third (210,000 metric tons) ended up in the European market, with Spain accounting for 45,000 metric tons, Poland for 44,000 metric tons, the Netherlands for 33,000 metric tons, Germany for 25,000 metric tons and Italy for 16,000 metric tons.

According to Vietfish, the country’s pangasius exports to the EU in the first quarter of 2009 were up 1,000 metric tons to 64,300 metric tons, which accounts for around 40 percent of its total pangasius exports.

Consumption figures show Spain taking a 23 percent share of the EU market, with consumers each eating 2.8 kilograms per year, and Poland capturing a 21 percent share and per-capita consumption of 2.9 kilograms per year. In Poland, pangasius represents one-quarter of all fish consumed, compared with just 5 percent throughout the EU.

Eurostat figures show the increase in EU pangasius imports being countered by a decrease in value, with import prices in France, for example, going from a high of EUR 2.55 in 2006 to EUR 2.15 in 2008, and those in Poland decreasing from EUR 2.01 in 2006 to EUR 1.60 in 2008. An exception to the rule was the United Kingdom, where prices increased marginally in 2007, but have now dropped again.

ACFA’s analysis of ad-hoc studies and consumer panels throughout Europe found pangasius particularly important in price sensitive mass catering. Its odourless profile, mild taste, lack of bones and low price have also made it popular in households not accustomed to eating fish, particularly with young and low-income families.

Mike Berthet, director of M&J Seafoods, one of the UK’s largest seafood wholesalers, confirms that good quality pangasius has become a big seller, taking over the whitefish slot in the majority of contract caterers. It is also becoming popular in the fish-and-chip industry as a cheap substitute for haddock and cod.

But will this trend continue? 

While the catching sector sees pangasius imports as a growing threat, the fish farmers themselves only receive around EUR 0.70 per kilo, making it difficult for them to break even, except in very large quantities. This has led to an oversupply situation, with large quantities pouring into the market, especially in eastern Europe, and allegations of “corner cutting” by some farmers in terms of quality.

This year, many Vietnamese farmers have been forced to call it quits — there is said to be a 30 percent reduction in pond acreage, which will result in a shortage of product and an increase in price, if demand continues to increase.

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