TUNA MARKET REPORT: DECEMBER 2012

Demand for tuna in the EU and USA continues to weaken, although non-canned tuna demand in the USA has been better this year. Raw tuna consumption in Japan has been sliding over the years, according to government reports.

Supplies & prices

Catch rates by tuna purse seiners picked up in the Western and Central Pacific during October 2012, resulting in improved supply of raw material and lower pricing. Prices for main sized skipjack declined to USD 2 050/tonne CFR Bangkok for November delivery.

Continuing the trend from October, catch volumes in the Eastern Tropical Pacific have remained very positive (comparable with previous years’ levels) providing continuity of raw material supply to Ecuadorean canneries. However, the ex-vessel skipjack price in Ecuador remained constant at USD 2 400/tonne.

Fleets in the Indian Ocean have reported disappointing fishing after a good start at the beginning of October. The initial positive fishing results softened skipjack prices to EUR 1 760 and yellowfin to EUR 2 450/tone, both FOB Seychelles.

Fishing by purse seiners operating in the Atlantic Ocean has been improving, contributing to the lowering of the price of skipjack to EUR 1 675/tonne ex vessel Abidjan. The price of yellowfin > 10 kg has also declined slightly to EUR 2 525/tonne ex vessel Abidjan.

Sellers are trying to maintain prices at EUR 2 800/tonne for yellowfin > 10 kg and EUR 1 800/tonne for main sized skipjack, both CFR Spain.

Markets

Japan

With the beginning of autumn, the sashimi market in Japan has started to improve. There have been increased sales within and outside the Tsukiji auction market since mid October.

Direct sales of the cheaper imported tuna have increased outside of the auction market; supermarkets and fish shops are the main buyers. The lower priced Mexican farmed bluefin (JPY 2 950/kg) was in good demand in this market segment.

Landings of fresh skipjack in Japan fell by 20% during the January-June 2012 period, compared with the same period in 2011.  As a result of poor landings the price was kept high at JPY 550-600/kg on the Tsukiji market, over JPY 100 more than last year.

Consumption of tuna (bluefin) and skipjack went down by 12% and 11% from June 2011 to June 2012. Another report said that the number of sushi restaurants in Japan, including traditional sushi bars, have declined by 10% between 2006 and 2011. However, despite the general declining trend in tuna consumption, Japanese imports of fresh and frozen tuna were higher during the first half of the year compared with 2011.

USA

There seems to be some recovery in the US fresh tuna market, which is reflected in January-June imports of non-canned tuna and tuna products. Although supplies were dominated by cheaper yellowfin tuna, imports of the higher value bigeye and bluefin tuna also increased compared with the same period last year.

Frozen tuna loin/fillet and steak imports were also 4% higher, despite a significant rise in the average import price (+50%). Noticeably, exports from lead supplier Indonesia were 33% lower than last year, but supplies improved from the Philippines and other sources in the Pacific including Japan (354 tonnes in 2012 against 57 tonnes in the same period of 2011).

Canned Tuna

The canned tuna industry is feeling the pressure from a number of different sources. Increasing production costs for tuna packers, declining consumer demand in the major markets, skyrocketing raw material prices, increasing demands from environmental groups and continuing adverse publicity about tuna are among the challenges that have affected the global canned tuna market.

USA

Sluggish demand for canned tuna continues in the US market. Under the current economic conditions consumers are reluctant to accept higher canned tuna prices, while supermarkets are unable to promote the product as a low-priced item as they could in the past.

In addition to increasing prices, tuna companies have been targeted by environmental groups on mercury content of tuna and sustainability related issues, which have also contributed to declining tuna consumption.

For the first half of this year imports fell by more than 23% in volume against the same period of 2011. In value, however, the imports were only slightly lower (-1.6%) because of higher tuna prices.

The major tuna suppliers have introduced new products to revive demand. Starkist has recently launched its single serve tuna pouch meals and the Chicken of the Sea “no drain” canned tuna introduced in spring has become a hit in the US market.

Europe

In addition to the Eurozone crisis and high price factors, unfavourable weather has affected the EU canned tuna markets. As consumers cut spending, high end canned tuna products have suffered. This is reflected in the declining imports of high value canned tuna from Spain into Italy, which declined by 11.6% during the first half of 2012 against the same period of 2011, while imports increased from Seychelles (+14.8%) and Cote d’Ivoire (+109%).

Like Italy, France also imported more from Seychelles (+30.4%) and Cote d’Ivoire (+77%), while imports from Spain and Ecuador declined sharply by 46.7% and 21.6% respectively, resulting in the Seychelles emerging as the top supplier in the market. As a result, overall imports into France went down by more than 11% in quantity in the period from January to June 2012.

Canned tuna imports into the sensitive German market posted negative growth (-11.7%) and, after posting strong growth last year, imports into the UK dropped by 11.4% from January to June compared with the same period last year.

Weakening demand and high prices have also affected pre-cooked tuna loin imports into Spain and Italy, the two main markets. Spain’s imports from Thailand were 80% down during the first semester of the year.

Asia

High canned tuna prices coupled with sluggish demand in the major markets have badly affected overall canned tuna exports from Thailand. For the first semester of 2012, exports dropped significantly by almost 25% in quantity; in value, however, it was more or less on par with the same period last year. The US remains the largest market, though shipment to this market declined by over 30%.

During the first semester of 2012, canned tuna imports into Japan increased significantly by 13% in quantity and 22.1% in value against the previous year, totalling over 24 000 tonnes worth JPY 11.9 billion (USD 150 million). Three ASEAN countries, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, continued to dominate the market taking over 97% of total supply.

Outlook

Skipjack raw material supplies are expected to improve in the last quarter of the year after the 3-month ban on FADs fishing imposed by the Western and Central Pacific Commission (WPCFC) ended on 1 October. Nevertheless this will not bring down the price as demand for raw material also increases towards the end of the year. Emerging markets in Asia, North Africa and the Middle East continue to be the key growth areas to compensate for declining consumer demand in the US and EU markets.

 Source: FAO Globefish