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Demand for value-added seafood products provides opportunity for Third World.

Rich European markets, already buying large tonnage from suppliers in Asia and Latin America, will require even more imports in the years ahead.

Developing countries could tap a growing European market for value-added fish and seafood products, according to a study by the Fishery Industries Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Published by Globefish, the division's research arm, the study documents Europe's increasing dependence on Latin America, Africa and Asia for species like hake, tuna, shark and dogfish, shrimp and cephalopods.

Surimi is the only further-processed product on the list, and it is usually transformed into analog products by the importers. But developing countries could get into that business, as well as the production of products like breaded fish and shrimp.

Developing countries, although faced with high (15-25%) tariffs for value-added products, have the advantages of plentiful cheap labor, abundant resources of high-quality raw material, lower prices for that raw material, and few or no environmental legislative constraints.
Imports of Surimi-Based Seafood in Selected European Countries
(in MT)
IMPORTER: 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990
Japan 291 788 1521 3381 3408 2917
Rep. Korea - 31 371 3500 6474 8209
Thailand - - - - - 623
Japan 10 241 806 1621 2345 2109
Rep. Korea 7 58 263 868 3029 3175
Thailand - - - - - 852
Japan 6337 4089 2870 942 1383 1575
Rep. Korea 23 596 1640 877 953 1873
Thailand - - - - 9 2
Japan 1 19 124 131 240 262
Rep. Korea - - - 24 288 627
Japan 38 60 82 115 154 224
Rep. Korea 13 8 25 49 79 107
The above EEC statistics do not identify surimi-based seafood
from other minced fish. It is assumed that the bulk of the
quantities imported from Japan, the Republic of Korea and
Thailand consist of surimi-based seafood, and that products
from other origins are not significantly composed of
surimi-based seafood.

What they have to do is prove they can deliver quality products continuously, on time and at stable prices. "The most successful formula is the collaboration between producers in developing countries and producers/traders in EEC countries," the study notes. "The supply of semi-finished fish products is one possible form of giving more benefit from fish resources in developing countries."

Moving on the specific categories, Globefish makes the following observations:


Spain is by far the largest importer, at 41,300 tons for 1990, with Chile (24,700) and Argentina (11,000) its largest suppliers. But hake imports generally have increased sharply over the last decade, from 59,200 tons in 1983 to 190,000 in 1989. Per capita consumption in the EEC during the same years increased 50%, from 1.1 to 1.7 kilograms.

In effect, the EEC has a two-tier market. In southern Europe (Spain, Portugal and Italy), hake is as basic to the groundfish market as cod is elsewhere: people know what it is and seek it out. But in northern Europe, hake is just a substitute for cod or other species, usually unidentified -- and therefore little known to the public that consumes it.

European processors use hake interchangeably with saithe and Alaska pollock, depending on the price, to produce fish fingers, fillets and fillet pieces. European hake is the preferred species, but South Atlantic species are also popular. Germany and France both import substantial (24,500 and 24,400 tons, respectively) amounts of hake fillets, with Argentina the greatest supplier in each case. Italy imports 14,500 tons, with South Africa the largest supplier. Peru has been able to penetrate the French and German market thanks to aggressive price competition.


While the market for shark and dogfish doesn't seem to be growing any more -- it peaked at 36,500 tons in 1987 -- it remains substantial. Italy is the largest importer, at 10,300 tons in 1989, having displaced France. Dogfish are called palombo there, and there are other made-up names like rock salmon in Britain and even curls of Schiller in Germany.

At the moment, prospects for developing countries aren't terribly promising. France and Britain are interested only in spiny dogfish, and Italy is extremely strict on quality control. Spain is the main market for shark, but it has been burned on some imports -- Peru was once the main supplier of frozen shark fillets, but was cut off after quality problems developed.

Fresh/Frozen Tuna

Tuna is one of the biggest categories in Europe, with imports having increased from 120,400 tons in 1983 to 268,900 in 1989. The largest single source is the Seychelles, at 45,400 tons in 1989; second is Mexico, at 30,200; and third Spain's distant water fleet at 28,900. Largest importer is Italy at 123,100 tons for 1989, up from 77,300 in 1983.

Although most tuna is imported in frozen form, it is virtually all used for canning once it gets there. Recent removal of a 24% tariff on tuna loins for Andean Pact countries (frozen whole tuna was already duty-free) may create attractive export opportunities for those countries, but Italian canners still prefer whole tuna because it isn't subject to oxidation and is more suitable for solid pack canned tuna.

Spain and France catch most of their own tuna, but still buy from other sources to get good prices. Spain, moreover, isn't particular about dolphins -- so tuna rejected by the USA can find a ready market there. French canned tuna production has been declining for several years, with plants in Africa taking an increased share of the market. But Spain is still supplied entirely by domestic canneries.

Overall, about half the canned tuna consumed in Europe is also produced there, with 42% of the 20 million-case total being packed in Italy, 30% in Spain, 23% in France and five percent in Portugal. Asian suppliers dominate canned imports, but Africa and the Pacific countries are moving in. One challenge for developing countries is production of tuna salads, which have an expanding market in France and Italy.


Even bigger than tuna, frozen shrimp accounted for 292,200 tons of imports into EEC countries in 1989, up from 132,200 in 1981. Denmark was the top importer, at 69,400 tons, but that was mostly for re-export. Britain imported 52,000 tons and Spain 45,400.

Greenland, at 38,000 tons, was the largest single supplier in 1989, and the Faeroe Islands second at 14,200. Only Thailand among Asian countries and Argentina among Latin American countries placed in the top five; they were third and fourth at 13,900 and 11,700 tons. But these supplier figures may have been just for raw shrimp, whereas import figures for European countries counted peeled and cooked.

Because coldwater species are preferred, northern European sources have always dominated the market; but as demand grows, there should be greater opportunity for the Third World. As of 1989, only nine percent of shrimp imports were farmed shrimp from Ecuador, Indonesia and China -- but that was up from six percent in 1987, and the figure is doubtless considerably higher today.

Ecuadorian white (penaeus vanamei), China white (penaeus chinensis) and Indonesian black tiger (penaeus monodon) shrimp have all been favorably received -- Ecuadoran shrimp have done especially well in Spain, China whites in Britain and France and black tigers just about everywhere. Prospects don't look good, however, for West African or Mozambican shrimp.

The market for value-added shrimp products embraces not only standard items like IQF peeled shrimp, breaded and battered tail-on shrimp, tray packs and microwave packs but regional products like Chinese or Indian spiced shrimp. Changing lifestyles (working mothers without time to cook) and a profusion of ethnic restaurants mean a growing market which developing nations can tap.


Combined squid, cuttlefish and octopus imports into the EEC reached 250,200 tons in 1989, with developing countries accounting for 54% of that. Italy was the largest importer in 1990, at 110,500 tons; and Spain second, at 90,000. Major suppliers included Thailand, Morocco, India, Mauritania and even the (now former) Soviet Union.

Imports of squid and cuttlefish are generally in the form of frozen whole blocks, cleaned and skinned. Both Spain and Italy have a preference for loligo squid, and Asian loligo species are making inroads into both countries, replacing the domestic Loligo vulgaris. Squid rings and other IQF and/or battered products offer the greatest opportunity for value-added exports from developing countries, but there are also potential markets for cuttlefish salads, stuffed squid and canned squid and octopus. Co-packing arrangements, by which developing countries produce semi-refined products like squid rings and tubes, boiled IQF octopus and the like for further processing in Europe, look like the best bet for now.




With consumption projected at 40,000 tons this year (vs. 25,000 in 1990), surimi-based analog products are on the move in Europe. Some 40% of the market is in France, 25% in Spain, 15% in UK.

European countries have started to produce surimi from their own resources, such as blue whiting in Norway and sardines in Italy. However, Japan and Korea are still the major suppliers, with the latter having overtaken the former. But there is also room for surimi from Thailand and other developing countries -- Peru and Chile could make it from hake and horse mackerel, India from sardinella.

For more information about the Globefish report, contact the FAO in Rome by phoning 5797-6389.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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