EU processors well positioned for growth despite consumption decline

Published on
December 7, 2018

Higher whitefish catching quotas, aligned with more sophisticated equipment that improve yield and portion control, are enticing more European seafood suppliers to now use processors within the 28 countries belonging to the Euroepan Union, rather than in distant locations, according to the new “Finfish Study 2018,” compiled by AIPCE-CEP.

The Brussels-based E.U. fish processors and traders association believes this shift away from the distant processing trend of the past 10 to 15 years “is gaining a sustainable momentum,” which in turn is benefiting the E.U. processing industry economically, and will bring benefit to those fisheries and cultivators operating in closer proximity to the E.U. market. 

Additionally, the emergence of specialist processing hubs that service local markets and use local supply as their foundation “appear to be creating a virtuous circle” that encourages further investment. This is backed by the confidence that the market wants more fish and that in turn improves efficiency and creates more demand, it said. 

However, the association said that this is not a unique development to the E.U., and that the process for adding and retaining value for fish and seafood processing inside the catching country is a developing trend in several regions of the world. 

Its report finds that the total seafood supply for the E.U.’s member states increased by 20,000 metric tons (MT) last year to almost 14.8 million MT whole fish equivalent (WFE). However, an increase in the domestic supply failed to make up the shortfall created by reduced imports and increased exports, leaving the bloc with a consumption total of less than 12.7 million MT. This represented a reversal of 117,000 MT, or down 0.9 percent, compared with 2016.

AIPCE-CEP said that while it was satisfying to see that domestic catches had contributed more to the consumption share in 2017 and the momentum for greater consumption can be met, the success of the seafood processing industry remains dependent on access to imported fish and global sourcing. 

Imports made up about 62 percent of last year’s available supply and 72.4 percent of consumption. 

Given the overall reduction in supply, E.U. seafood consumption fell slightly to 24.8 kilogram per capita WFE. While this closely matched the average since 2006, it still represented the first reduction in five years.

The report states that with improved availability of many species from wild capture and aquaculture, more growth was perhaps expected. But it highlights that there is increased competition for fish and the E.U. is a mature market.

“As a trading bloc, the E.U. is presently the most important for fish and seafood globally but other regions are becoming more significant and we must ensure that we keep developing,” it said. “It is also essential not to put any unnecessary barriers – whether tariff or non-tariff – that could inhibit this consumption.”

The supply of whitefish is especially important to E.U. processing due to the tonnages involved and the high level of processing and value-addition associated with the product category. The study confirms that the demand for whitefish from member states again increased last year – reaching more than 3.1 million MT for wild-capture species alone. 

Some 89 percent of these products were sourced from beyond E.U. borders.

The increased volume of wild-capture whitefish species has been driven by higher quotas in several key fisheries across the Northern Hemisphere. 

Atlantic cod in particular has benefited from a period of high biomass and quotas in the Barents Sea but also in the mid-Atlantic region around Iceland. While these supply peaks may have passed and some reduction can be expected, the E.U. remains the largest single market for all species of cod and may prove more resilient than other regions of the world in its appetite for the fish and take an even larger share of the supply, said AIPCE-CEP. 

In 2017, the E.U.’s cod supply decreased by 2.3 percent to 1.23 million MT. Of this, the domestic supply fell by a greater proportion as the E.U. catch declined by 9,400 MT. There was, however, a marginal improvement in utilization to 81.8 percent. Consequently, the E.U.’s cod self-sufficiency stood at 10.4 percent. 

For other whitefish not caught at all in the E.U., Alaska pollock remained the most important species, with the E.U. providing a key market for both U.S.- and Russian-origin materials. 

The E.U.’s total pollock supply grew by 1.5 percent reaching 855,200 MT last year. The report finds that within this, the proportion coming from China has fallen by 10 percent over the last four years, which has been offset by the growth of the U.S. and Russian fish. This shifts demand away from twice frozen products into single frozen. 

China’s share of the E.U. whitefish trade has dropped to 22 percent, with reductions seen in most species.

AIPCE-CEP represents 3,500 enterprises, equating to 120,000 jobs and EUR 27 billion (USD 30.6 billion) in turnover.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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