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Italy-U.S. fish trade, 1981-88.



Italy is the world's fourth largest importer of fishery products, surpassed only by Japan, the United States, and France. The value of Italy's fishery imports has more than doubled from $0.7 billion in 1981 to $1.8 billion in

1987. Imports now constitute a larger proportion of Italian consumption of fishery products than does the domestic catch. The latter has increased only gradually since 1981. Italian fishery exports have not kept pace with imports; therefore, the trade deficit in fishery products has increased from $0.6 billion in 1981 to $1.6 billion in 1987.

Although the United States ranks among the world's leading exporters of fishery products, its share of the Italian import market has traditionally been less than 1 percent. In 1988, however, U.S. fishery exports to Italy doubled in value compared with those in 1987 and trebled in quantity. On the other hand, U. S. fishery imports from Italy, never a significant share of the U.S. market, decreased from $4 million in the mid-1980's 1980'to only $3 million in 1988(1).


Italy's fisheries sector was mostly an artisanal operation as late as the 1930's. After the widespread destruction during World War II, the fishing industry was rebuilt and modernized along with the rest of the country. Over the past 20 years, the modernization of the fishing industry has continued. The fleet has expanded appreciably since the 1960's: The number of engine-powered vessels has doubled, while the total engine power of the fleet has trebled. The fishing fleet is now the second largest in the European Community (EC) after Spain's. The majority of Italy's 20,000 vessels are trawlers under 50 gross registered tons (GRT), operating mostly in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic. Other types of vessels fishing in the Mediterranean are equipped with multiple gear, purse seines, or dredges (for harvesting bivalve mollusks). While the number of small vessels has increased in recent years, the number of larger high-seas vessels has declined from over 50 to about 30 vessels for reasons discussed below. The remaining high-seas vessels, each over 500 GRT, fish in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Italian fishermen, like fishermen in other countries, faced two adverse international conditions in the 1970's: Increasing fuel prices and decreasing access to many traditional distant-water fisheries, following the implementation of 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ's). The loss of these distant-water fisheries severely affected fishermen in Italy. They had begun to rely on North and West African fishing grounds because Italian coastal grounds were overfished and polluted.

During the late 1970's, well-organized fishery cooperatives pressured the Italian government for aid, claiming that high fuel costs and longer fishing voyages made it uneconomical for them to compete with fishery imports. Initially, the government provided only fuel subsidies, but soon it adopted more comprehensive measures. In 1982, the government introduced a $50 million, 3-year "Plan for Rationalization and Development of Italian Marine Fisheries, " designed to restructure Italy's fishing industry. To compensate for the loss of distant fishing grounds and for increasing operating costs, the plan provided for 1) modernization of the fishing fleet by subsidizing the replacement of old vessels, 2)joint ventures between Italian and foreign fishing companies, 3) bilateral agreements with nations off whose coasts Italian fishermen had operated prior to the EEZ extensions, and 4) exploratory fishing in unexploited fishing grounds. The Plan produced good results: Many older vessels were scrapped, joint ventures were created (with U.S. fishermen, for example(2), and fishing agreements with West African countries have been signed (through the European Community). The continuing increase of Italian fishery imports during the 1980's, however, indicates that Italian fishermen have not been able to keep pace with domestic demand for fishery imports.

Italian law requires the formulation of a new national plan for fisheries every 4 years. The current plan (1987-90) emphasizes conservative resource management: Reduced trawling in the Mediterranean, reduced fishing for venus clams, and no increase in fishing for demersal species. One important objective, which several other EC nations share, is to gradually reduce the size of the fishing fleet. Italy plans to decrease the tonnage of its fleet (about 262,000 GRT) by 5 percent before 1990.

In spite of government development plans, part of the fishing industry, particularly in southern Italy, has modernized only slowly, retaining many of its artisanal aspects. Many fishermen sell their catch directly to customers, avoiding official markets. Products sold in this manner are probably not included in government fisheries catch or consumption figures. Thus, official statistics concerning both catch and sales of fishery products are suspect. Informed observers have estimated that as much as one-third of the Italian fisheries catch goes unreported.

Despite their well publicized difficulties, Italian fishermen have doubled their catch over the past 3 decades. The catch continued to increase until 1985, when 583,000 t of fish, shellfish, and other aquatic products were harvested; this total decreased to 554,000 t in 1987, the last year for which the data were available (Fig. 1). The diversity of the catch has allowed fishermen to concentrate on new species as stocks of traditional species have declined. Harvests of some important species have increased recently: Mussels (now the most important species by quantity) from 58,000 t in 1981 to 85,000 t in 1987(3), European hake from 15,000 t to 27,000 t, venus clams from 21,000t to 37,000tons. The catch of two important Mediterranean species, however, has decreased significantly: The pilchard catch declined from 78,000t in 1981 to 47,000 t in 1987, while the harvest of anchovies has decreased from 61,000 t to 20,000 tons. The pelagic catch(4) declined mainly because the use of nets having a mesh smaller than the legally allowed 4 cm has depleted immature fish. In addition, the domestic demand for these species has decreased.

Fisheries Trade

Italy's trade deficit in fishery products increased from $600 million in 1981 to over $1,600 million in 1987 (Table 1). Over that period, the value of exports varied from $100 million to $180 million, while imports increased from $720 million to $1,800 million (Fig. 2). Imports

Since 1981, Italy has increased its imports of traditionally popular fishery products-tuna, hake, dried and salted cod, and groundfish fillets-and has supplemented these with additional and growing imports of shellfish (5)-squid, shrimp, and lobster (Fig. 3). In 1986, Italy was the world's second largest importer of squid behind Japan) and the third largest importer of tuna behind Japan and the United States). Tuna imports, some of which are canned for reexport, increased from 50,000 t in 1981 to 114,000 t in 1987, when they were valued at $170 million. Squid imports almost trebled over the same 7 years from about 25,000 t to 71,000 t worth $100 million. Shrimp imports increased from 6,200t in 1981 to 17,000t, worth $134 million, and lobster imports, under 300t in 1981, reached 3,600t in 1987.

Italy's most important suppliers of fishery products are EC member countries. For example, France and Spain supply most fresh and frozen tuna, while Spain exports mussels; the Netherlands supplies frozen plaice fillets and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) exports canned fillets.

Imports from EC nations are favored because they are exempt from the tariffs (ranging from 5 to over 15 percent by value) which are assessed on fishery imports from non-EC nations. Northern Europe's well-developed transportation system allows the EC member countries to supply Italy's growing market for fresh fish. Importers in Milan, northern Italy's main distribution center for West European fishery products, have reported that fresh fish from abroad often arrives more quickly than fish from Sicily. For example, fish landed in Danish ports can be refrigerated, transported overland across the FRG and Switzerland to Milan, and sold fresh within 3 days after being landed. Italian products, on the other hand, often take a circuitous route to the market: They are first frozen and stored, then later thawed and sold as "fresh" fish. Imported fish has thus become associated with higher quality.

Several non-EC nations are also important suppliers to Italy: Norway (which qualifies for reduced tariffs because of its fishing agreements with the EC) is a major source of salted cod. Poland and Thailand are Italy's largest suppliers of squid, together providing over half of squid imports in 1987 (19,000 t and 17,000 t, respectively). Argentina is Italy's largest source of hake (7,000 t out of 18,000 t in 1987), and Cuba is an important supplier of shrimp (2,000 t out of 17,000 tons).

Italy has strict and vigorously enforced health regulations for imported fishery products. Imports must be accompanied by a health certificate-printed in Italian as well as in the language of the country of origin-identifying the product, certifying that it has been suitably refrigerated or frozen, specifying any chemical additives used, and stating that the product is wholesome and fit for human consumption.

The Italian government has implemented additional health regulations because of concern over heavy-metal contamination in seafood. All fishery imports must be accompanied by a certificate of mercury content, released by the appropriate authorities of the exporting country, testifying that the mercury content does not exceed 0.7 mg/kg (or parts per million). According to the U. S. Embassy in Rome, the Italian Ministry of Health has divided fish species into 2 main categories depending on whether they tend to have low or medium-to-high mercury content. Most species-including U.S. Pacific salmon, pelagics such as herring and anchovy, shellfish such as squid, shrimp, lobster and crawfish-are classed as "low mercury content. " For these species, the Ministry will accept a general statement by the authorities of the exporting country that, "the shipment of fish does not have a mercury content higher than O.7mg per kg. " For medium-to-high risk fish-including tuna, swordfish, and several species of sharks-a detailed mercury content certificate must accompany each shipment to Italy.

The government has also placed specific restrictions on some shellfish imports. After imported squid was found to contain significantly more than the 2 mg/kg limit of cadmium, the Italian Government began restricting squid imports to entrails-free product only. (Although the entrails were not intended for human consumption, there was concern that they could contaminate fish meal or other products.) Italy also temporarily restricted imports of clams from Thailand because of contamination. Imported clams and oysters now must come from approved fishing areas, and importers must have purification facilities. Exports

Italy's exports of fishery products are significant but they have not increased in proportion to fishery imports (Fig. 2 and 3). Export value remained at about $100 million per year during 1981-84, increased to a high of $180 million in 1986, but declined in 1987 (Table 1). The largest exports are fresh, frozen, and canned sardines and anchovies ($32 million in 1987). Other exports include squid ($26 million), trout ($12 million), canned tuna ($12 million), and mussels ($2 million). The bulk of Italy's exports are sold to other EC nations, primarily to nearby France and Spain.

U.S.-Italy Fisheries Trade

The turnover value of U. S. -Italian fisheries trade (imports and exports) has increased from $5.5 million in 1981 to $17.5 million in 1988. Each country remains only a minor fisheries trading partner for the other. U. S. fishery exports to Italy represented less than 1 percent of total Italian fishery imports in the 1980's (Table 2). U.S. fishery imports from Italy were an even smaller share of U. S. fishery imports, well under 0.1 percent of the total. U. S. fishery exports to Italy are modest compared with U. S. exports to other EC nations. In 1988, the United States exported $265 million to the EC, 70 percent of which was bought by the UK, France, and the Netherlands (Table 3). Although U. S. fishery exports to Italy increased significantly in 1988, surpassing those of Denmark, the FRG, and Belgium/Luxembourg, they still accounted for less than 6 percent of exports to the European Community (Table 4). U.S. Exports

U. S. fishery exports to Italy more than doubled in 1988 to $14.9 million, compared with $6.6 million in 1987 (Table 5, 6). Squid exports increased most dramatically: From $2 million in 1987 to $6 million in 1988, when they accounted for 40 percent of the value of U. S. fishery exports to Italy. Salmon exports recovered in 1988 to $2.3 million after declining for several years to only $0.5 million in 1987. Eel exports have also recovered, from under 30t in the mid- 1980's, to 400t, worth $1.5 million in 1988 (Fig. 4).

The mid- 1980's decline of U.S. fishery exports to Italy, like the overall decline of U.S. fishery exports to the EC, can be partially attributed to the strength of the dollar. The value of the Italian lira decreased 40 percent against the dollar from 1981 to 1985, when Italian imports from the United States reached a low point. Since 1985, Italian imports have increased again, as the lira regained much of its former value (Fig. 4, 5).

The increased U.S. squid exports to Italy in 1988 coincided with the increase in total U. S. squid exports. During that year, the United States exported 17,000 t worth $25 million, or more than double the 1987 squid export level. Several factors besides the improved exchange rate) favored increased exports to Italy. First, average prices of U.S. squid exports to Italy decreased from $2.30/kg in 1987 to $1.80/kg in 1988. Second, U. S. squid-fishing and processing has improved. There are now over 10 American freezer-trawlers fishing for squid off the Atlantic coast. The "Americanization " of the U.S. squid fishery phased out Italian fishermen who used to fish in U. S. waters under joint-venture agreements. Italy imports U. S. squid partly to make up this loss. Third, fishermen off the Falklands Islands, a prime squid fishery, reported difficulty catching longfin squid, Loligo pealei, in 1988. Low prices made fishing for shortfin squid, Illex illecebrosus, off the Falklands unprofitable, because of license and transportation costs. In short, increased U. S. supply, improved quality, and reduced price promoted U. S. squid exports to Italy.

U. S. salmon exports to Italy compete primarily with Canadian exports of frozen salmon. Canada has supplied over half of Italy's imports of salmon throughout the 1980's ($12 million out of $20 million in 1987, excluding canned). In 1987, competition increased when Norway became an important supplier of fresh salmon to Italy ($3.7 million). Norwegian exports of fresh farmed salmon to Italy will probably continue to increase, and may displace some of Italy's canned and frozen imports. Thus, although U. S. exports of frozen salmon to Italy recovered in 1988, Norway's increasing salmon exports may hinder further increases. Italian consumers strongly prefer fresh fish.

Other U. S. fishery exports to Italy have recently surged: Lobster exports multiplied from 1 t in 1987 to over 100 t worth $1.1 million in 1988; shrimp exports (both frozen and canned) increased from 6 t in 1987 to 40 t worth $0.24 million in 1988. Exports of mullet, cod, crabs, sea urchins, and clams, all negligible during most of the 1980's, increased appreciably in 1988, suggesting that the overall Italian market for U.S. fishery products is expanding.

An April 1988 report by the Irish Sea Fisheries Board identifies the following market opportunities for frozen fish in Italy: 1) Monkfish tails (1 -4 pieces/kg), 2) shrimp, especially larger sizes (4-12 pieces/kg)(6).

U.S. Imports

U.S. imports of Italian fishery products increased to $3.0 million in 1985 (helped by the strength of the dollar), but decreased to $2.5 million in 1988 (Tables 7, 8; Fig. 6). Imports of canned fishery products, anchovies, sardines, and clams, have declined since 1987. Canned tuna imports have increased, but have not made up the loss in fresh and frozen tuna imports; the value of tuna imports decreased from over $1 million in 1986 to under $0.2 million in 1988. The only import which increased significantly in 1988 was shrimp, which doubled to $0.3 million. (Source: IFR-89/43.)

(1) Significant U.S. imports of "nonedible partial fishery products, " mostly jewelry, are not considered in this report. In 1988, these imports amounted to $1,088 million.

(2) There were several joint ventures between Italian and U. S. fishermen in the 1980's, but these no longer operate; U.S. fisheries have been gradually "Americanized" since the mid-1980's.

(3) Partially from increased mussel aquaculture.

(4) Pilchards, sardines, anchovies, and other pelagic species are collectively called "blue fish" (pesce azzurro) in Italy.

(5) In this report, shellfish includes cephalopods (such as squid), following the classification used by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

(6) About 2 to 6 pieces/pound.
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Title Annotation:Foreign Fishery Developments
Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Sep 22, 1989
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