Global fish prices leap to all-time high
By Emiko Terazono in London
Global fish prices have leapt to all-time highs as China’s growing appetite for high-end species from tuna to oysters runs up against lower catches.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s global fish price index, an industry benchmark that tracks the cost of wild and farmed seafood, hit a record high in May, up 15 per cent from a year ago and above the peak set in mid 2011.
“In the coming months, supply constraints for several important species are likely to keep world fish prices on the rise,” the Rome-based FAO has warned.
The changing Chinese diet has already boosted demand for grains and livestock feed. The same phenomenon is now under way in the seafood industry, where the total value of fish trade is expected to reach $130bn this year.
China is the world’s largest producer of farmed tilapia, but it is increasing imports of other types of fish such as salmon and shellfish.
The impact of this shift is important for more expensive shellfish products, for which China has become a leading market. The country’s oyster and mussel consumption is growing as much as 20 per cent a year, tightening the global market.
Oyster prices, which have more than doubled over the past three years, are expected to rise further in 2013 as supplies from France remain low due to a virus that has destroyed the country’s young stock.
Richard Haward, a seventh generation oysterman in Essex, northeast of London, said: “Demand from Hong Kong and China and a worldwide shortage of supplies has increased prices.”
Urbanisation and the advent of supermarkets is contributing to higher fish consumption in emerging markets.
Audun Lem, a fish expert at the FAO, said: “The product development, including ready meals and clean fillets really facilitates fish consumption.”
The jump in Asian demand has coincided with low supplies for several key species due to disease and high feeding costs in the aquaculture industry.
The cost of tuna, one of the most heavily traded fish species, has risen to a record high, up 12 per cent over the past year on strong sashimi and sushi demand, as well as from the canned tuna industry. This has coincided with smaller catches.
Shrimp, another heavily traded species, has seen prices up 22 per cent as supplies have been hit by a disease spreading in southeast Asia as well as by a fall in low wild harvests.
Salmon prices have surged 27 per cent over the past year, but are well below their record highs. The price of aquaculture production is expected to remain high as the industry battles with record feed costs. Fishmeal prices remain near a record high due to a sharp decline in supplies of anchovies, used to manufacture feed rations.