Liancheng seeks market niche with MSC-certified bigeye tuna
Last month, a Chinese-operated longline fishery in the Federated States of Micronesia became the first fishery to achieve Marine Stewardship Council certification for a bigeye tuna fishery. The fishery, owned by three interconnected Chinese fishing companies, Liancheng Overseas Fishery (Shenzhen) Co. Ltd. (SZLC), China Southern Fishery Shenzhen Co. Ltd. (CSFC) and Liancheng Overseas Fishery (FSM) Co. Ltd. (FZLC), previously achieved MSC certification for its yellowfin fishery in October 2018.
Liancheng is also responsible for the Cook Islands South Pacific albacore and yellowfin longline fishery, which achieved MSC certification in 2015. Its yellowfin and bigeye tuna fisheries in the Republic of Marshall Islands are also undergoing an MSC assessment, which should conclude by the end of 2019.The largest Chinese fleet to achieve MSC certification, Liancheng has said it is dedicated to achieving MSC certification for all its fisheries.
Liancheng Senior Vice President of Marketing Joe Murphy talked to SeafoodSource about the firm’s aim to market MSC-certified bigeye catch in China, Japan, Asia, the United States, and Europe.
SeafoodSource: Where does Liancheng sell its products?
Murphy: Liancheng markets our catch globally including the U.S., Canada, Japan, China, other Asian nations, and Europe. Our company has been involved in tuna from the Pacific Islands and other locations for almost three decades.
SeafoodSource: How important is the MSC accreditation for the domestic Chinese market? Are Chinese consumers very familiar with MSC?
Murphy: While MSC is well-recognized and very important to the European market, there is definite increasing interest in the MSC eco-label use from major retail and foodservice operators in China. The Chinese market has many international hotels committed to offering sustainable foods, so the consumer is seeing the MSC blue eco-label. The Chinese buyers seeking MSC are familiar with the eco-label and what it signifies through their parent companies, as they are major high-end hotel chain restaurants and retailers.
The huge and important use of internet marketing in China also provides exposure to products carrying the MSC logo. This same trend is occurring in the U.S. and now in Japan for the [upcoming 2020 Tokyo] Olympics.
SeafoodSource: Do you view the Tokyo Olympics as an opportunity for raising the profile of your MSC-certified tuna?
Murphy: Actually, the request for MSC tuna for the Olympics originated with several of our Japanese buyers. So there must be some expected demand.
SeafoodSource: Liancheng experienced double-digit growth on sales of tuna in China in 2018. What kind of tuna products are you selling in China and what helped the company post such strong growth?
Murphy: We sell a variety of tuna items in China from ranched bluefin to frozen-on-board processed loins in China as re-freshed. The Chinese market is known for demand for fresh fish rather than frozen or canned.
SeafoodSource: Liancheng recently hosted a large event to promote tuna in Guangzhou. How important are events like that to your business?
Murphy: The Guangzhou event provided a great opportunity to feature fresh tuna to the consumer and gathered a great deal of publicity and interest. The Chinese market for tuna is fairly young yet, but we are experiencing enthusiastic response to both fresh and frozen tuna products from all sectors of the China market. The year-upon year-growth is in double digits.
SeafoodSource: Do you think that having the MSC certification for bigeye tuna will help you to increase revenue?
Murphy: Sure. While there is certainly an expense involved with participation in the MSC program, including special handling of the fish on board the boats and shipments to customers, and other expenses such annual third-party audits and the maintenance of additional records, there is also an unmet demand for MSC-certified tuna that does allow for some preferential pricing, not only for Liancheng but also for our customers.
SeafoodSource: You pointed to the potential for “preferential pricing” for MSC-certified products – is that in China or in export markets?
Murphy: We find that MSC tuna products can realize a premium price over non-MSC in all markets where we do business. Our fish comes from the Western and Central Pacific where our fleet fishes are and where we have onshore bases. The fish from these various bases goes to all global markets, including the U.S., Japan, Europe, Asia and of course to China. China would represent a lower percentage than the other markets.
SeafoodSource: Do you think the WTO reform of fishing subsidies will have a big impact on your business? In what way would the removal of fuel subsidies (as proposed by WTO reforms currently being negotiated by WTO members including China) change your tuna-fishing business model?
Murphy: We do not comment on subsidies, as they are not within our control.
Photo courtesy of Liancheng