US tilapia imports flat, pangasius gaining

The whitefish panel at the National Fisheries Institute Global Seafood Market Conference in 2023

U.S. Department of Commerce data indicates imports of tilapia in 2022 will likely remain flat when final numbers come in, while imports of pangasius have rebounded from 2019.

The data, shared during the National Fisheries Institute Global Seafood Market Conference – which ran from 15 to 19 January in Palm Springs, California, U.S.A. – shows the combined total of whole frozen and frozen fillet tilapia imports was at 136,000 metric tons (MT). That number shows the species is remaining relatively flat, as when December data comes in – unless there are significant anomalies – the import rate will over around 160,000 MT. 

While flat, the numbers are lower than tilapia imports were a decade ago - especially considering imports of frozen fillets hit 168,000 MT in 2012, and combined with whole frozen the U.S. imported over 200,000 MT of tilapia that year. 

Imports remained relatively steady from that level until 2016, when imports dropped to 170,000 MT, and have stayed below that number since.

Pangasius, meanwhile, is seeing near-record imports. According to U.S. DOC data for 2022 through November, the U.S. had already imported 120,000 MT. That number is only below the record-breaking 131,000 MT the U.S. imported in 2016.

Great American Seafood Imports President Sam Galletti said during the panel that the success of tilapia and pangasius will be crucial for the industry in 2023 as a value proposition for families.

“This is a great opportunity to bring real consistency to the marketplace for consumers to continue to feel that seafood in general is relevant to their lifestyle, to their diet, to the options that they have when they’re consuming proteins,” Galletti said.  

Making predictions of what pricing and volume in the two species will do is hard, he added, because of the ever-evolving market landscape the two species have had over the last several years.

“I think we’re in in a new marketplace now. And the marketplace is quite different from what we’ve experienced or what we’re used to,” Galletti said. “I think instead of looking to the past, we have to look at the present and we have to look forward.”

That said, Galletti said his predictions for the two species are on the positive side.

“I’m a positive guy. My forecast for these two species is 2023 is going to be a back to basics year. There might be some modest increases in tilapia volume, I think pangasius has a little better chance to grow than tilapia does just because of the foodservice sector,” Galletti said. “But I’m very very positive about the future of the demand for these two products.”  

Photo by Chris Chase/SeafoodSource


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