The EU Federation of National Organisations of Importers and Exporters of Fish (AIPCE-CEP) has recently published its annual Finfish report, which provides data illustrating the main trends in European fish markets. The report highlights that, collectively, the 27 EU member states form the world’s largest market for fish and seafood products: fish consumption last year reached 13 million tonnes, reflecting both population growth and increased per capita consumption.
The major part of the market is still supplied by imports. In total, imports have grown by around 500,000 tonnes since 2006, reaching a new peak in 2011 of 9.548 million tonnes. Overall reliance on imports has therefore risen to 65%, the highest figure since the EU27 was formed. However, the specific dependence on certain key species, such as white fish, is actually much higher.
A few species have established themselves as essential to the market: wild-captured whitefish (like hake), freshwater species (like pangasius), tuna, salmon, surimi base, etc. There are also certain formats that are key raw material, like industrial blocks and surimi base, for which EU manufacturing capacity is limited. Imports of those products are therefore essential.
The long-term expansion of aquaculture is helping to provide large supplies of individual species, creating greater certainty in both quantity and quality of supply, which is an important incentive for investments in both capital equipment and market development.
Some ACP countries, like Namibia and South Africa remain amongst the ten top suppliers of hake to the EU market. However, overall, China has become the largest supplier of products for the EU market. These imports are often derived from raw materials imported into China, where they undergo primary processing before re-export to the EU.
The report also highlights the fact that the EU is the largest world market for tuna products. Most of these products are canned, with only around 4% of tuna imports being sold fresh as a premium product.
This new report shows that the main concern for EU importers and processors is to have certainty in both quantity and quality of the fish supplies they receive. For ACP producers, this means that they have to ensure that their products meet EU market-access requirements (including SPS and IUU regulations), so that such regular supply can be guaranteed. Given the domination of a few suppliers, particularly China, on the market, it is also advisable for ACP countries to concentrate their efforts on niche markets – such as labelled fish products – where they can promote the intrinsic qualities and the environmental and social sustainability of their products. This also means investing resources in ACP sustainable fisheries production systems.