Groundfish: December 2012 Market Report

Barents Sea cod season expected to be the best in more than 50 years as quota increases lead to fears of downward pressure on prices.

Supplies & Prices

Norway reported that this year’s cod fishing season has been the best since 1947 and authorities have decided to raise the cod quota for 2013 by 25%. As a result of the increase in supplies, fishermen and exporters alike are now fearing that cod prices will decline further, especially next year. Total Norwegian groundfish exports (including fresh, frozen, salted, klipfish and stockfish) declined by 20% to NOK 888 million during September. The average unit export price for cod products went down by 5%.

Meanwhile, in New England, groundfish quotas may be cut severely because of the poor condition of the stocks, according to reports. Although no final decision has been made, observers are estimating that the cuts in quotas may amount to 70% or more for the cod in the Gulf of Maine and a similar amount for cod on the Georges Bank. Haddock quotas are also expected to be dramatically reduced, as well as flounder quotas.

Market observers are baffled by price developments on the European pollock market. US exporters are offering single-frozen MSC-certified pollock pin-bone-out at USD 3 200 – 3 500 per tonne. European buyers are hesitant to buy at these higher prices and now appear to be looking to China for supplies instead, where exporters are offering twice-frozen MSC-certified blocks at USD 3 000 or less.

US production is now focusing on surimi and deepskin blocks rather than pin-bone-out blocks. At the end of July, US production of surimi blocks was up 31% compared with last year, production of deepskin blocks was up 59%, while production of pin-bone-out blocks was down by 23%.

Markets

On the German market, imports of frozen Alaska pollock fillets have been declining over the past five years. During the first half of 2008, Germany imported 92 100 tonnes of frozen pollock fillets, while in the first half of 2012, the country imported only 72 900 tonnes (-21%).

On the French market, there was a decline in imports of frozen Alaska pollock fillets as well, but on this market, imports have been quite variable. The first half of 2011 showed signs of improvement, with 25 900 tonnes being imported. In 2012, imports fell back to 22 900 tonnes (-11.6%).

Demand for Norwegian groundfish has also weakened lately, with China drastically reducing imports of round frozen cod and economic difficulties continuing elsewhere. It seems that it is only on the UK market that frozen cod is selling more or less as in recent years. First half imports actually increased slightly, from 42 100 tonnes in 2011 to 43 400 tonnes in 2012.

In the USA, however, it would appear that demand for groundfish is picking up gradually, judging from import figures. During the first half of 2012, US imports of cod-like groundfish increased slightly, from 72 100 tonnes in 2011 to 74 800 tonnes in 2012

In Japan, imports of surimi during the first half of the year increased by 12% to 116 000 tonnes. The value of imports stood at JPY 32.2 billion, an increase of 22%. Imports from the USA amounted to 40 700 tonnes, of which 38 700 tonnes was pollock surimi, a 31% increase from the same period last year. China suffered a 33% decrease in its surimi shipments to Japan during the first half of 2012, mainly as a result of poor landings of ribbonfish.

Outlook

While US prices for groundfish blocks have developed in different directions lately, it must now be expected that prices of cod blocks, as well as hake blocks will continue to decline. The price of pollock blocks will also decline because of improved supplies. However, there may be continued high prices for single-frozen MSC certified pollock blocks for some time yet.

Cod fillet prices on the European market will probably decline as more product becomes available to the market, especially in the first three months of 2013. Other groundfish products may suffer the same setback pricewise, as the general increase in supplies takes hold. However, there will always be niche products that may do well in the market.

With the sharp increases in cod quotas expected for the coming year, and a further fall in prices expected, many now fear that the groundfish market will have to change through innovation of some sort. New markets must also be sought, and once again Asia looks to be the most promising region.

Source: FAO Globefish