Tough times for tilapia persist due to oversupply, low prices

Published on
January 18, 2017

Tilapia producers faced a tough year in 2016, with an oversupply of product and the lowest prices seen since 2011.

A panel of premium finfish experts speaking at this year’s National Fisheries Institute's Global Seafood Market Conference in San Francisco, California, debated tilapia’s latest challenges, including a softening in demand related to a lack of species promotion. Such hurdles have prompted many fresh tilapia producers to gravitate toward frozen product offerings, and tilapia producers in Ecuador have started to veer in the direction of shrimp production, which has become more lucrative in the region recently.

“2016 has been a challenging year for anyone producing tilapia,” the panel surmised. “A little too much fish in the market.”

Despite these difficulties, the outlook for tilapia heading into 2017 and 2018 is positive, the panel said. Honduras continues to dominate tilapia production, even with a devastating El Nino drought to contend with, and is expected to maintain its reign in the sector. Meanwhile, Colombia will look to capitalize on its new free trade agreements and Brazil has growing potential to transform into a major tilapia exporter to the United States, the panel agreed. However, given the volatility of tilapia, it may still be a while yet before Brazil reaches its potential as a tilapia exporter, the panel concurred.

In 2017, tilapia supply is projected to stay steady, and lower prices could work to increase demand over time, the panel argued. But if low prices persist at this current level, many small tilapia farmers could go out of business, the panelists cautioned.

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