Chinese wholesale markets call out for low and medium priced fish imports

Published on
December 10, 2015

It appears that large shipments of fish from India and Pakistan have flattened prices for key fish species in China’s largest east coast markets.

One of China’s leading seafood wholesale markets, the Dongfang international Fisheries Market in Shanghai, is reporting that the average price for seafood in November was CNY 45.10 yuan / kg, flat month on month. A vendor at the market, Hu Qiangguo, explained that larger supply of croaker and pomfret in particular from South Asian suppliers has served to deflate demand for pricier fresh fish. “Also, November is a good month for supply because a lot of croaker, pomfret, eel, shad and squid comes mature at this time so the prices are a bit lower.”

Interestingly, the average price for live fish at the Dongfang in November at CNY 54.61 yuan / kg, was down 2.77 percent from October. But prices for chilled saltwater fish at CNY 42.16 yuan / kg, were up 1.51 percent from October while average frozen fish prices averaged CNY 38.53 / kg, up 2.41 percent month-on-month. This suggests more demand for the lower-cost sea-water species like pomfret and hairtail, typically imported frozen.

China’s seafood prices must be seen in the context of overall food price inflation which has sagged over the past year along with weaker demand in the economy in general. China has suffered in recent months from weaker prices with the October consumer price index (CPI) rising 1.3 percent year-on-year. Food prices went up by 1.9 percent year on year, significantly lower than the government ceiling of 3.5 percent.

Smaller hairtail (150-250 grams) sold for CNY 10 yuan / 500 grams in November while larger (500-750 grams) fish belt sold at an average CNY 20 to CNY 22 per 500 grams. Smaller (150-250 grams) pomfret meanwhile sold for CNY 22 / 500 g with 350g fish fetching CNY 50 per 500 grams. “There is constant and growing demand for quality smaller fish like pomfret,” said vendor Li Wenming who supplies small-scale retailers and restaurateurs from the Dongfang market. He says that a persistent problems of under-sized fish from China’s domestic seas has forced importers to seek alternative supplies and similar species from further afield.

On the live/fresh side of the market there have been surprisingly steep falls in prices for some key species: prices for freshwater mainstays carp, grass carp and silver carp fell by 3.62 percent, 18.12 percent and 9.23 percent respectively (year on year) while the more upscale mandarin fish fell 11.76 percent month on month. Average prices for snakehead – a species popular in China and Korea, dropped 15 percent while prices for bass (also known as perch) were down 30.86 percent. A favourite for upmarket dining, the turbot prices dropped 21.74 percent and mullet was down 12 percent on the same period last year.

China’s seafood prices are expected to rise significantly next month in the run up to the Chinese New Year festival -which falls on February 8 – given it’s the banqueting high point of the year in cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

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