World canned tuna market revived in 2018 as raw material prices eased with improved supplies

Demand for canned tuna improved in global markets during 2018, while developed markets remained stable for higher value products. The markets for non-canned tuna continued with positive trends, as consumers buy more fillets and less whole fish.

Raw Material Supply

Skipjack tuna supplies increased worldwide in 2018, with improved catches in most of the fishing zones compared with 2017. Except for the FAD closure months of July through September, catches were moderate to good in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, keeping skipjack tuna prices 16 percent lower in 2018 than in 2017.

In the Eastern Pacific, catches declined from January to May 2018 and improved in June and October. IATTC fishing closures were from 29 July to 6 October and from November 2018 to 19 January 2019. These closures restricted fishing of Manta’s by 41 and 59 percent of the fishing fleet, respectively. During the low catch periods, canneries in Ecuador sourced material from the Western Pacific and The Indian ocean. Tuna catches were stable in the Indian Ocean, which made regular trans-shipments of frozen raw materials possible to Thailand and Ecuador. In the Atlantic Ocean, tuna catches fluctuated from moderate level between January and April to low level in May 2018, pushing raw material price up for European canners. Catches improved from August and remained stable until November, but weakened slightly in December 2018.

Better catches of skipjack tuna and price adjustments resulted in higher imports of frozen fish by canneries. Compared with 2017, total frozen tuna imports (skipjack, yellowfin, albacore) in Thailand increased by 14 percent to 745?000 tonnes, and in China was up by 53 percent reaching 107?000 tonnes. Total frozen tuna imports were 0.7 percent lower in the Philippines (140?000 tonnes). Spain imported 10 percent less raw frozen tuna, down to 150?500 tonnes, but 7.6 percent more cooked loins (91?500 tonnes) in 2018.

Fresh and frozen tuna market (noncanned products)

This market segment of tuna includes sashimi and non-sashimi grade products. The high value species in this market are bluefin, bigeye and yellowfin tuna, in fresh and frozen whole and fillet forms. For whole/ dressed fresh tuna the two major markets in ranking were the United States of America and Japan. While imports in the United States of America reached a plateau in 2018, demand for imported fresh tuna in Japan declined significantly.

On the contrary, the frozen fillet market has been expanding worldwide, for both sashimi and non-sashimi grade products. In 2018, an estimated 130?000 tonnes of tuna fillet entered the international trade, some 3–5 percent more than in 2017. In the three large markets of the United States of America, Japan and the EU28, imports increased by 3 to 13 percent in 2018 compared with 2017, with a combined share of 75–78 percent. The other 22– 25 percent market share was held by the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, China, Turkey and Switzerland, all of which displayed a 20–100 percent growth in imports of frozen fillet during the review period compared with 2017.

United States of America

Consumer demand for non-canned tuna was positive in 2018, supported by steady import prices. Presenting a reasonable increase over 2017, US total imports of non-canned tuna in 2018 were 6.2 percent higher, reaching 63?800 tonnes. Demand for high value fresh bluefin tuna and frozen tuna fillet increased in 2018 compared with 2017. Total imports of fresh tuna in 2018 remained the same as the 2017 level, at 23?100 tonnes, but with an increase of 25 percent in supplies of highvalue Mediterranean bluefin (2?130 tonnes) and a 2.5 percent rise in yellowfin tuna imports (16?700 tonnes). US imports of bigeye tuna declined by 17 percent. Imports of frozen tuna in the United States of America consisted of 3?600 tonnes of dressed fish (+6 percent) and 37?100 tonnes of frozen fillets (+13 percent).


In the world’s largest sashimi market, tuna is gradually losing market share to salmon, preferred by the younger generation. Tuna has become an item for special occasions and celebrations. In 2018, imports of fresh/chilled and frozen tuna reached ten-year lows at 13?600 tonnes and 155?000 tonnes, respectively. However, increased imports of deep frozen fillet increased by 10.6 percent to 52?500 tonnes in 2018. In recent years local tuna domestically harvested in Japan, including farmed Pacific bluefin tuna, is preferred over imported fresh fish.

European Union (Member Organization)

The EU28 non-canned tuna imports increased moderately in 2018, dominated by frozen fillets and mostly supplied by non-EU28 sources. The market imported nearly 23?000 tonnes of frozen tuna fillet in 2018, about 2.7 percent more than in 2017. Imports increased in France (+5 percent to 8?000 tonnes), the Netherlands (+20 percent to 2?800 tonnes), Portugal (+38 percent to 1?600 tonnes) and Poland (+100 percent to 910 tonnes) but declined in Spain (-5 percent to 10?400 tonnes) and Italy (-7 percent to 4?000 tonnes). Summer demand for tuna fillet also increased in Eastern European countries.

Canned Tuna Trade

Canned tuna producers and marketers expanded their trade worldwide in 2018, as overall raw material supply particularly skipjack tuna remained smooth at cheaper prices compared with 2017. Subsequently imports increased in many large, medium and small markets globally.


Thailand was the top exporter of canned/processed tuna, increasing supplies to the United States of America, Egypt, Australia, Japan and Canada. Thai exports increased by 6 percent in 2018, while 2017 exports were 13 percent lower than 2016. Thai canned tuna exports increased to the regional markets in the Asia/Pacific and in the Middle East.

The nominal rise in Ecuador’s exports was the result of lower catch in the Eastern Pacific and falling exports to the main market, the EU28 (-3 percent), in particular the 23 percent decline in exports of cooked frozen loins to Spain. However, exports increased from Ecuador to Colombia (+34 percent to 21?300 tonnes), Argentina (+3 percent to 14?400 tonnes) and Chile (+0.3 to 8?800 tonnes).

Spain, a large producer of high value processed tuna, maintained its strong hold in the EU28 market and increased exports to Italy, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. China increased exports to the EU28 by 73 percent, mostly in the form of cooked loins. Exports of cooked loins also increased from Indonesia to Thailand and the EU28, while Indonesian canned tuna supply was higher to the Middle East markets.


Lower raw material prices generated improved demand for canned tuna in many markets, both large and small. Total imports increased moderately in all the top markets. The positive demand trend for higher value processed tuna also persisted in the US and EU28 markets.

North and South America

In 2018, US imports trends were positive for conventional canned tuna as well as for higher value tuna-in pouch/in-cups/convenient packs. Nearly 22 percent or 45?200 tonnes of these imports in 2018 consisted of higher value tuna-in-pouch and other value-added products compared with 19 percent or 38?200 tonnes in 2017. Imports of higher value albacore (including in pouch) increased by 18 percent from 28?200 tonnes in 2017 to 33?000 tonnes in 2018. This trend confirms an increasing demand for higher value products in the US market.

Overall, all light-meat canned tuna (skipjack and yellowfin) imports also increased from 99?400 tonnes in 2017 to 122?800 tonnes in 2018. Nearly 64 percent of these consisted of conventional tuna in brine.

In Canada, canned tuna imports increased by 4 percent to 32?800 tonnes in 2018. Canned tuna imports in Latina America increased in Colombia (+26 percent to 32?200 tonnes) and Argentina (+10 percent to 18?200 tonnes), but declined in Chile (-3 percent to 19?100 tonnes).

European Union (Member Organization)

In general, demand for canned/processed tuna in the EU28 remained soft during 2018, with a marginal rise in total imports, which could be attributed to intra-EU28 trade by European producers. The top three suppliers of processed tuna to the EU28 market were Ecuador, Spain and the Philippines. Among these, exports only increased slightly from Spain, indicating the market’s inclination towards higher value products, while extra-EU28 imports consisted mostly in cooked loins and conventional canned products that posted a negative trend (-0.22 percent to 513?000 tonnes) compared with 2017.

Among the large markets, imports increased by 9.6 percent in Italy to 129?200 tonnes and by 4.7 percent in Spain to 128?200 tonnes, but declined in the United Kingdom (-12.5 percent to 104?200 tonnes). The French market imports remained flat at 99?900 tonnes (+0.14 percent). Imports increased in Germany by 8.7 percent to 92?000 tonnes. Despite the general softness in raw material prices and preferential tariff status for Ecuador and the Philippines, imports declined from these suppliers.

Others in Europe

In Switzerland, canned tuna imports declined marginally (-0.75 percent) to 9?100 tonnes. The price sensitive Russia Federation market, however, increased imports by 12 percent to 4?700 tonnes, during the review period. Imports also increased by 2 percent in the small Norwegian market to 2?000 tonnes.

Asia/Pacific & other Markets

In 2018, demand for canned tuna increased in the established and emerging markets in Asia/Pacific. In the two regional developed markets, imports increased but marginally in Japan to 39?400 tonnes (+3.5 percent) and in Australia to 47?100 tonnes (+ 3.3 percent). Cheaper raw material also encouraged domestic production in Japan. In Southeast Asia, imports increased in Malaysia by 31 percent to 3?200 tonnes, in Singapore by 8.4 percent to 2?300 tonnes, in the Republic of Korea by 28 percent to 1?500 tonnes and in Myanmar to 1?500 tonnes from a mere 80 tonnes in 2017.

Consumer demand for shelf-stable canned tuna has been on the rise in developing south Asia’s urban markets. Imports in Sri Lanka increased by almost 100 percent in 2018. In Bangladesh, a wide range of imported canned tuna is now available in medium and high-end supermarkets in the capital city Dhaka, which has a population of 20 million.


Skipjack tuna prices started to decline in most fishing areas since July 2018. Notably, the average import price of frozen skipjack tuna (CFR Bangkok) from July to September 2018 was nearly 30 percent lower than the corresponding period in 2017, while the 2018 annual average was 15 to 16 percent below 2017. The falling price trend in Thailand also pushed down prices in the Indian Ocean and other fishing regions, but yellowfin tuna prices remained firm with slight rises.

For non-canned tuna, prices of fresh and frozen loins remained firm throughout 2018. During the end of the year high consumption period, wholesalers price of fresh yellowfin tuna loins to retailers reached USD 15.00 per lb and up in the west coast of the United States of America.


The current year has started with rising prices of skipjack tuna due to low catches in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Fishing in the Western and Central Pacific started below average because of unfavourable weather during January and February 2019, though it started to improve in March. Skipjack tuna price for Bangkok already increased to USD 1?450 per tonne in March, even though frozen inventories in Thailand seemed to be good.
Fishing in the Eastern Pacific was poor also and canneries in Manta are now extremely short in raw material, where ex-vessel price of skipjack tuna increased to USD 1?600 per tonne and it is expected to move up further. Catches in the Indian Ocean also slowed down with rising prices of skipjack tuna, but yellowfin tuna prices declined slightly. As of April, frozen skipjack price already reached USD 1?650 per tonne, indicating lower supply, which will impact prices of end products.
Demand for sashimi tuna in the largest non-canned tuna market, Japan, is expected to increase during the Spring festival months of April and May. With the approaching warmer months in the West, there will be better demand for tuna fillets and steaks until the end of summer.