Scotland, Ireland, Estonia look to China

Editor’s note: SeafoodSource Contributing Editor Mark Godfrey attended the China Fisheries & Seafood Expo in Qingdao early this month. Here’s his sixth in a series of reports from the 16th annual event.

Dale Bellamy of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organization (SFO) says the time is right to export Scottish coldwater langoustine to China.

“We’ve been coming here years and we feel the Chinese economy is now ready to buy high-quality and high-priced product,” he told SeafoodSource during the 16th annual China Fisheries & Seafood Expo in Qingdao early this month.

“It’s like nothing they ever tasted before,” added Bellamy, referring to the reaction to his organization’s products among customers in China, which has its own massive shrimp-farming industry.

Local Chinese shrimp, farmed in warmer water, may be cheaper but it lags on taste, claimed Bellamy. The “fantastic resource” that are Scottish waters means his product will win on taste among China’s growing middle class, he explained.

Hoping to target the premium end of the market, Bellamy has found that Chinese distributors ask about smaller-sized langoustine (30-40 per pack compared to an average seven larger-sized langoustine per pack). “But the quantities we have of the smaller size are not very great,” he said.

The Scottish langoustine catch has risen 50 percent in the past year thanks to increased demand, according to Bellamy. Yet the SFO, with 200 boats, will have sufficient volume for the Chinese market. Given the fragility of the Eurozone market, it’s imperative to develop new markets. He’s seeking to commence shipments to China “immediately.”

Meanwhile, Irish seafood promotion body Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) is working with seafood companies to develop more “targeted” trade with China, according to BIM spokesperson Hazel Dobbyn. “The Chinese market is valued at EUR 4 million, and the main products are pelagic including blue whiting for reprocessing,” said Dobbyn.

The South Korean market is worth more to the Irish — EUR 7 million in 2010 — and is predominantly a shellfish trade. Irish seafood companies exporting to China include Sean Ward Fish Exports Ltd., Killybegs Seafoods and Arctic Seafoods Ltd. Ireland also exports small quantities of shellfish to China and hopes to grow these, explained Dobbyn.

Estonia is increasingly looking to China as a source of raw materials such as tilapia for processing and transshipment to Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia. One such firm, Avektra, already buys shrimp and several finfish products from Vietnam and Thailand, explained Valdur Noormagi, chairman of the Estonian Association of Fishery (Eesti Kalaliit). “We see more scope to do this in China,” said Noormagi.

Noormagi said Estonia has a unique advantage as a trade-minded food producer and processor. “There are only 1.3 million people in Estonia; there are 150 million in Russia,” said Noormagi. Estonia has been a successful exporter of dairy products, added Noormagi, and can do even better on seafood, given its small population, rich resources and international-minded seafood industry.

While the country has concentrated on shipments of perch, pike perch and mackerel to Germany and Holland, it’s also exporting shrimp to Japan. Estonia is the EU’s second biggest producer of coldwater shrimp. “We have seven factory vessels and 100 approved companies,” said Noormagi.

Another seafood-exporting nation, Iceland, is more pessimistic about the Chinese market for its pelagic exports. While China ranks No. 2 (after Japan) in Asia for Icelandic exporters, increased costs for processing seafood has hurt sales in China for Icelandic product, according to Haiqing Zhang, managing director of Icelandic China, a trading company.

“China is buying less and less fish from Iceland,” said Zhang.

Click on the headlines to view Godfrey’s five other reports from Qingdao: 

Chinese exporters look homeward to grow sales

Peru seeks to drive sales to China

Chile to mount PR offensive in China

Indian exporters look past EU to China

Foreign exporters hone in on Chinese tastes


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