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Sobering wind blows ashore in Chile, as seafood export prices plummet 20%.

It's Chile and not just Argentina they were crying for last year, as export prices fell 20% to 25% for major products. But things began to look up in the second half, and there are reasons for "a more optimistic view for the near future," Eduardo J. Infante reported at the International Seafood Conference in Lisbon.

In spite of the setback in export prices and revenue, said the president of Incofoods S.A., "the industry has shown some dynamic changes during the year." One was strong development in the grouper industry, with the catch nearly doubling from about 11,000 tons to more than 20,000. Another was the birth of a substantial surimi industry.

Until 1990, grouper were caught almost entirely by artisanal fishermen using small boats, but beginning in 1991 long-liners became involved and found new fishing grounds for the species. As a new species to most markets, it has been subject to price pressures, and the FOB price of $8.50 a kilo for skin-on fillets quoted towards the end of 1991 fell to $4 a year later. Because the primary markets are interested only in fillets, grouper frozen at sea must be reprocessed on shore - a boon to many factories that had excess capacity.

Japan is the largest market for grouper, and the Japanese like their grouper big (grading is in terms of kilos per fillet). The snow white, oily fish is presently used as an alternative to black cod, but Infante believes that once the Japanese consumers get more used to this species, prices will go back to a more reasonable level." A good part of the grouper catch from international waters, estimated at 6,000 tons, was to be sold in a public tender by the Chilean government at the end of the year.

Infante touched only briefly on the budding surimi industry, which he said uses mostly jack mackerel as raw material but also some whiting. "This product has been a new alternative for using the catch of whiting," he noted. Whiting catch has increased steadily over the Past six years, and reached about 64,000 tons in 1992. Prices were low last year, but showed some signs of recovery towards November. Skin-on boneless fillets were going for about 80 cents a pound in the United States and slightly higher elsewhere; defatted blocks were fetching 85 cents and mince (surimi) 45 cents.

Kingklip is no longer anywhere near king of the Chilean fishing industry. Catches keep going down, to about 6,000 tons last year vs. 7,000 in 1991 and 15,000 in 1990. "I haven't heard an explanation from the biologists, but I guess what happened to this resource was the same thing that happened to the same species in South Africa when the long-lining system was introduced," Infante commented. South Africa is now a major market for kingklip, but Spain is the largest and Australia and the USA are also important. Prices are firm; well over $2.20 a pound for fillets and $2-4 a kilogram for headed-and-gutted fish, depending on size.

The take on hake isn't good, either, with the catch last year having fallen to around 35,000 tons from a high of 70,000 in 1988. "It seems very clear that the species has been over-exploited, and it is easy to notice that because the size of the fish caught is smaller every day," Infante said, expressing hope that the government will crack down. Spain and Portugal have always been the main markets primarily for frozen headed and gutted, with C&F prices there ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 a ton.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:The customer is definitely always right, Argentine seafood industry discovers.
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