Positive market trends for canned and non-canned tuna

Supported by steady raw material availability and lower prices, global sales of processed/canned tuna improved during the first nine months of 2018. Import demand for the higher-value non-canned tuna also remained strong.

Raw Material Supply

Tuna catches in the Western and Central Pacific increased since October 2018, particularly for skipjack, when normal fishing resumed after the three month FAD closure. Subsequently, skipjack prices weakened from USD 1?650 per tonne in October to USD 1?400 per tonne in December.

In the Eastern Pacific, the second Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) veda remained in force from 9 November 2018 to 19 January 2019, when 59 percent of the fishing fleet stayed at the port. Frozen inventories at Manta improved prior to this veda as landings from incoming vessels increased before the tie up and prices dropped for skipjack and yellowfin.

Overall catches in the Indian Ocean were low to moderate during October–December 2018. Landings in the Seychelles declined in December once the yellowfin quota was exhausted. Raw material inventories at local canneries were good and so were transhipments of frozen tuna to Thailand and Ecuador. In the Seychelles, skipjack prices also fell following the prices in Thailand, but yellowfin prices remained firm with slight rises. After the positive trends in October and November 2018, tuna catches in the Atlantic Ocean declined in December but raw material inventories at local canneries remained healthy.

During the first three quarters of 2018, larger volumes of raw materials were imported in Thailand, Spain and Ecuador, as skipjack prices remained low and consumer demand for end-products increased in many markets. During this period, there was a rise of almost 100?000 tonnes in Thai frozen tuna imports (+20 percent to 602?000 tonnes) compared with the same period in 2017. Ecuador imports also rose to 37?300 tonnes (+40 percent). Spanish imports of frozen skipjack, yellowfin and albacore were slightly lower at 123?100 tonnes (-5.3 percent), compensated by a 5 percent rise in pre-cooked loins imports to 74?600 tonnes, during the review period.

Fresh and frozen tuna market (non-canned products)

Supported by good summer demand, imports of frozen tuna loins/fillets and steaks increased in the western markets. Imports for higher-value whole bluefin tuna (dressed and frozen) also increased in the United States of America and Spain during the summer of 2018. Japan continued to import more frozen loins and less whole fish for sashimi usages.

On the supply side, the leading exporters of frozen tuna loins were Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, China, Mexico, the Philippines and Thailand. Supplies increased from all these countries during the first nine months of 2018. Some of these are reprocessed to higher value canned/pouched products. Notably India, a new comer in this trade, exported 614 tonnes of frozen tuna loins during this period, against 180 tonnes a year ago.

United States of America

Despite the firm price trend of non-canned tuna in 2018, consumer demand remained good in the US market, with peak consumption of tuna steaks in July and August. The cumulative imports of noncanned tuna during the review period increased by 6 percent to 48?000 tonnes, compared with the same period in 2017. About 58 percent of these imports were frozen fillets (27?500 tonnes), some 10 percent higher year-on-year. Whole air-flown tuna had a 30 percent share at 17?700 tonnes.


The downward demand trend in Japan’s sashimi market continues. Imports of air-flown whole tuna during the first three quarters of 2018 were the lowest in recent history at 10?300 tonnes. Consumer demand for high quality sashimi tuna is changing to locally harvested bluefin tuna, both farmed and wild caught.

The negative demand trend also persisted for whole/dressed frozen tuna, replaced by deep frozen fillet (-60 degree Celsius), which have longer shelf life. Frozen fillet imports during the review period increased by 7.3 percent to 39?000 tonnes.

Summer demand for sashimi tuna in Japan was poor, but the market started to improve in October 2018. Consumer demand was brisk from mid-December to New Year, particularly for the higher value bluefin.


Non-canned tuna demand in the summer was good in Europe. EU28 imports of frozen tuna loins increased by 6 percent to 19?200 tonnes during the first nine months of 2018, compared with the same period in 2017. The top markets were Spain (+2 percent to 8?200 tonnes), France (+3.2 percent to 6?400 tonnes), the Netherlands (+22 percent to 2?100 tonnes) and Germany (+94 percent to 2?000 tonnes). Imports were also higher in the United Kingdom and Portugal.

During the review period, Spain also imported 18?000 tonnes of bigeye (+45 percent) and 129 tonnes of frozen bluefin tuna (+209 percent), for non-canned tuna usages. In the emerging market of the Russian Federation, frozen loin imports increased by 103 percent to 2?700 tonnes during the first three quarters of 2018.

Canned tuna trade

Stable supply and lower price of skipjack tuna moved the global canned tuna market to a recovery track starting in the second quarter of 2018. This trend persisted through the rest of the review period, with improved demand in the large conventional western markets, the Middle East and the East Asian markets.

Thai exports to the United States of America and Egypt, its top two markets, increased by over 10 and 100 percent, respectively, during the first three quarters of 2018. Thailand also exported more to other top destinations, namely Australia, Japan, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

Ecuador increased slightly its exports despite lower sales to its top market, the EU28 (-7 percent to 106?100 tonnes), as exports to Argentina and Chile increased. The decline in exports to the EU28 was due to a raw material shortage between July and September 2018.

Spain managed to uphold minimum export growth but with falling supplies to its top markets, namely Italy with 23?600 tonnes (-3.7 percent), France with 17?800 tonnes (-6.5 percent) and Portugal with 9?300 tonnes (-1 percent). Spanish exports increased to the Netherlands to 8?400 tonnes (+49 percent) and to Germany to 6?700 tonnes (+45 percent). Nearly 89 percent of Spanish exports (74?300 tonnes) went to EU28 markets during the review period.

Indonesia’s export growth could be attributed to increased sales of cooked frozen loins to Thailand and the EU28, as well as increased exports of canned tuna to Middle East markets.

North and South America

Processed tuna imports increased significantly in the United States of America, but declined marginally in Canada (-1.0 percent) during the first three quarters of 2018. According to the US National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS), the US market imported 158?200 tonnes of processed/canned tuna during the review period, some 15 percent more than in the same period of 2017. Most of these imports (121?800 tonnes) were canned and pouched tuna meant for direct consumption.

Demand for higher value processed tuna is on the rise in the US market, following the launch of new product lines in March 2018. Imports increased by 23 percent to 53?600 tonnes during the review period. Imports of conventional light-meat (skipjack/ yellowfin) in brine also increased during the review period.

In Latin America, imports declined in Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Peru, suggesting sufficient local stocks. Imports increased by 34 percent in Columbia (25?300 tonnes) compared with the same period in 2017.

European Union (Member Organization)

The negative import trend of canned/processed tuna in the EU28 market during the first six months of 2018 was reversed in the third quarter with increased intra-EU28 trade, due to better demand for higher quality and higher value products. ExtraEU28 imports declined and were largely consisting of conventional canned products.

Cumulative imports during the first three quarters of 2018 increased by 2.7 percent to 555?400 tonnes, including cooked frozen loins (120?000 tonnes). Imports from external sources fell by 1.5 percent to 394?300 tonnes, compared with the same period in 2017. The top five import markets in the EU28 were Italy with 102?600 tonnes (+8 percent), Spain with 102?900 tonnes (+2 percent), France with 75?500 tonnes (-4 percent), Germany with 73?300 tonnes (+16 percent) and the United Kingdom with 71?900 tonnes (-5.0 percent).

Others in Europe

The Swiss market remained relatively stable with marginal rise in imports (7?450 tonnes, +2 percent). Imports declined in Norway (-7.7 percent to 1?500 tonnes). Imports in the Russian Federation remained unchanged at 3?000 tonnes.

Asia/Pacific & other Markets

The market recovery in East Asia was moderate for canned tuna during the first three quarters of 2018. During this period, Japanese imports increased by 4 percent to 49?000 tonnes. Imports were higher in Malaysia (+47 percent to 2?500 tonnes), Singapore (+10 percent to 1?700 tonnes), Hong Kong SAR (+17 percent to 2?200 tonnes), and the Republic of Korea (+23 percent to 870 tonnes), compared with the same period in 2017. In the Pacific, the largest market Australia was stagnant at 34?700 tonnes despite lower market prices, caused by economic down turn, declining disposable income of consumers and currency weakening.

Most of the large and medium markets in the Middle East responded positively to lower import prices and bought more during the third quarter of 2018. Cumulative imports during the review period increased in Egypt (+43 percent to 32?700 tonnes) and in Saudi Arabia (+13 percent to 30?000 tonnes). Exports trends from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines also indicated higher sales to Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Oman and other minor markets in the Middle East.


Skipjack prices started to decline in most catch areas since July 2018. The average import price of frozen skipjack (CFR Bangkok) during the third quarter of the year was nearly 30 percent lower than during the corresponding period in 2017, while the 2018 annual average was 16 percent below 2017. The falling price trend in Thailand also pushed down prices in the Indian Ocean and other fishing regions.

For non-canned tuna, prices of fresh and frozen loins remained firm throughout 2018. During the yearend high consumption period, wholesale price of fresh yellowfin loins to retailers reached USD 15.00 per lb and above in the West Coast of the United States of America.


The falling price trend for frozen skipjack persist in 2019, even though catches in the Western Pacific have been low due to unfavourable weather conditions. High stock of raw material in Thailand keeps putting pressure on prices of recent catches. In the Eastern Pacific, canneries were closed during Christmas and New Year, while the second IATTC veda closure was on until 19 January 2019.

In the Atlantic Ocean, the two-month FAD closure is in force from 1 January to 28 February 2019. Although general availability of raw material remains moderate at the beginning of 2019, prices are unlikely to rise until demand improves from Thai canners. Catches in the Eastern Pacific are expected to improve from late January in favour of canneries in Ecuador.

In the canned tuna trade, the impacts of lower raw material prices on end products have been visible since the third quarter of 2018. Annual imports in 2018 are likely to be higher in many markets compared with 2017. During January and February 2019, exports of canned tuna to the US market are likely to be brisk to fill up the lower duty quota (6.5 percent). Importers in the EU28 are likely to do the same, particularly for loins, in order to take advantage of the lower tariff under the quotas. In other markets, imports are likely to be less aggressive during the first quarter of the year.

For non-canned tuna, the sashimi market in Japan will traditionally be slow until the Spring festival in April. In the US market, sales opportunity for fresh and frozen tuna during the upcoming Lent remains uncertain due to the current Government shutdown.