Global trade for canned and non-canned tuna improved during the second quarter of 2018

The price of frozen skipjack fell 12–15 percent below last year’s during the first half of 2018. Unexpectedly, it declined further to a record low of USD 1 250 per tonne in August and bounced back to USD 1 650 per tonne in October 2018.

Raw Material Supply

In the Western and Central Pacific, the FAD fishing closure was implemented from July to September. In the Eastern Pacific, the IATTC ‘veda’ was enforced from 29 July to 8 October, when 41 percent of the fleet abstained from fishing. Despite overall low landings during this period, skipjack delivery price to Thailand dropped to USD 1?250–1?450 per tonne between July and September but reached nearly USD 1700 per tonne by mid-October 2018. In the Indian Ocean, catches were moderate between April and September, but lower in September due to the yellowfin tuna quota. In the Atlantic Ocean, catches were poor in July due to unfavourable weather, but they have improved since September.

By early July the cold storage capacity was full in Thailand, as raw material imports increased significantly during the first half of 2018. Frozen skipjack imports during this period amounted to 339?600 tonnes, representing an increase of 44 percent (+100?000 tonnes) compared with the same period in 2017. Even with lower imports of yellowfin and bigeye tuna, total imports of frozen tuna reached 436?600 tonnes, 30 percent more than last year.

Raw material imports during the first half of 2018 were also higher in Spain (+8.5 percent at 100?000 tonnes for whole tuna and 52?000 tonnes for cooked loins), in the Philippines (+11.6 percent at 86?500 tonnes) and in Ecuador (+39 percent at 23?700 tonnes).

Fresh and frozen tuna market (non-canned products)

An estimated 120?000 tonnes of frozen tuna fillet/ loins entered the international trade for non-canned usages (sashimi and non-sashimi) in 2017. The top markets were Japan, the United States of America and the EU28, but another 10–15 countries imported 1?000–2?000 tonnes each. Imports increased in these markets during the first half of 2018, but other markets were also positive.

United States of America

Summer demand for non-canned tuna was good in the United States of America, particularly for fillets and steaks. The US market is also the world’s largest importer of fresh/chilled tuna, with a total volume of 11?600 tonnes during the first half of 2018, which is almost twice the volume imported by Japan during the same period in 2017. Japan is still the largest sashimi tuna market in the world.

During the review period, there was a notable 26 percent rise in high-value bluefin tuna imports in the United States of America. Overall supply of airflown tuna fell by 4 percent due to lower catches of yellowfin and bigeye tuna in the supplying countries.

Imports of the popular tuna fillet (mostly frozen tasteless smoked and carbon monoxide treated products) also increased by 15 percent to 16?000 tonnes during this period. The leading suppliers were Indonesia, Viet Nam, the Philippines and Thailand. There was also a 51 and 7 percent increase in high quality sashimi grade fillet imports from Spain (350 tonnes) and Japan (343 tonnes), respectively.


This year’s unusual hot summer weather (35–41°C) coupled with natural catastrophes (earthquake and super typhoon in July and August) affected sashimi tuna consumption in Japan. Supermarkets refrained from the customary promotional sales during this year’s summer holiday season. Japanese imports of fresh tuna during the first half of 2018 were the lowest in recent history at 6?490 tonnes (-11 percent).

Strong market preference for frozen tuna fillet and loins persisted in the Japanese sashimi market. Subsequently, imports of frozen tuna fillet rose by 12 percent to 29?200 tonnes during the review period. The largest shares of Japanese imports were frozen bluefin tuna loins (48 percent, supplied by Malta, Turkey, Mexico, Croatia and Spain), followed by yellowfin (25 percent) and bigeye (14 percent) loins supplied mainly by the Republic of Korea and Indonesia.


The Canadian market was stable for non-canned tuna products and increased its imports of frozen fillet by 25 percent to 274 tonnes during the first six months of the year. Canada is a leading supplier of high value jumbo bluefin tuna (whole/dressed) to Japan.

Frozen tuna fillet imports also increased by 9 percent in the EU28 totalling 12?300 tonnes during the review period, compared to last year. The top markets of Spain, France and Italy all had increased imports. Among other European markets, summer demand for frozen tuna loins was good in the Russian Federation, where imports increased by 58 percent to 851 tonnes.

Turkish imports of tuna loins reached almost 900 tonnes during the first half of 2018, compared with only 170 tonnes of imports a year ago, mainly supplied by China and Viet Nam.

The largest market for this type of tuna product in developing Asia is the Republic of Korea, which imported 2?185 tonnes during the first half of 2018. In addition, the high sea tuna fleet of the Republic of Korea also supply loins to the domestic market, so that market is actually larger. In spite of the efforts of Japanese and other Asian exporters, consumer demand for non-canned tuna (whole and fillet) in China is still insignificant in the world’s largest seafood market.

Canned tuna trade

The first quarter’s weaker trend in global processed tuna trade reversed during the second quarter of 2018, particularly for products meant for direct consumption. This was reflected in exports from Thailand and Ecuador, from where exports increased by 5 percent and 4 percent respectively during the second quarter of 2018, compared with the same period in 2017. Their negative trends for the cumulative exports during the review period were the result of lower sales in the first three months of 2018.

Exports from the Philippines and Indonesia also increased. Spanish exports during the first six months of 2018 were stable at last year’s level during the same period.


Demand for canned and pouched tuna in the big consumer markets of the United States of America, Japan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which generally depend on imported supplies, remained positive during the first half of the year in comparison with the same period in 2017, while the negative import trends persisted in the EU28. Imports have also increased in other markets in the Middle East and South East Asia.

North and South America

Import demand for canned tuna increased in the Americas during the first half of 2018 compared with the same period in 2017.

The US canned tuna market continues to recover in 2018, with strong demand for high value tuna products. Imports increased from the top suppliers, namely, Thailand (+19 percent), China (+16 percent), Ecuador (+ 4 percent), but declined from Viet Nam (-17 percent). Processed tuna imports amounted to 102?000 tonnes, of which 75 percent (76?500 tonnes) was ‘tuna in cans and in pouch’ for direct consumption.

During the first six months of 2018 high value ‘tuna in-pouch’ imports increased by 44 percent for whitemeat albacore to 2?800 tonnes and 30 percent for light-meat (skipjack and yellowfin tuna) to 18?900 tonnes. The import trend for the conventional canned tuna in brine was also good during the review period, reaching nearly 44?000 tonnes, compared with 30?000 tonnes during the same period in 2017.

Among other markets in the Americas, Colombia emerged as the second largest importer during the first half of 2018, purchasing 17?600 tonnes of canned tuna (+42 percent) and overtaking Canada (-7 percent at 15?000 tonnes) followed by Argentina (+19 percent at 9?900 tonnes), Chile (-15 percent at 8?700 tonnes) and Mexico (+16 percent at 7?400 tonnes).

European Union (Member Organization)

Tuna prices in general have been soft in 2018 compared with 2017, though that has not had any visible impact on demand in the EU28 markets, either for canned/pouched tuna or for cooked loins for reprocessing. The market is holding more than sufficient stocks from 2017 purchases and possibly reached a saturation point for conventional canned tuna products. During the first six months of 2018, total EU28 imports of processed tuna decreased by 5.4 percent to 362?700 tonnes, compared to the same period in 2017. About 24 percent (86?700 tonnes) of these were cooked loins usually reprocessed in Spain, Italy, France and Portugal. The leading markets were the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. In the individual EU28 countries, there were increased imports in Germany, Belgium, Austria and Sweden.

The EU28 canned tuna market was largely supplied by external sources (72 percent), largely supplied by Ecuador, the Philippines, Mauritius, Seychelles, Papua New Guinea and China.

Others in Europe

Following the 2018 first quarter’s trend, Swiss imports remained weak at 5?100 tonnes (-5 percent) during the review period. Positive trends continued in the Russian Federation (+ 8 percent at 2?000 tonnes), Norway (+ 25 percent at 1?000 tonnes) and Ukraine (+14 percent at 450 tonnes) through the first half of 2018, compared to the same period in 2017.

Asia/Pacific and other markets

Among the top three markets in the Asia/Pacific region, demand for processed tuna remained positive in Japan with a 5 percent rise in imports to 31?200 tonnes, but declined in Australia (-5 percent at 23?000 tonnes) and in New Zealand (-15 percent at 2?600 tonnes). The lower prices induced reasonably good imports in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong SAR.

Among the large markets of the Middle East, imports increased in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but declined in the United Arab Emirates, Libya and Yemen, mainly supplied by Thailand and Indonesia.

Since May 2018, Sri Lanka put a ban on canned fish imports from China including canned tuna due to the presence of worm parasites in some consignments detected earlier in 2018, as reported by INFOFISH. Nonetheless, canned tuna imports in Sri Lanka increased by 240 percent to 110 tonnes during the first half of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017. Sri Lanka is the largest import market for canned tuna in South Asia.


During the first half of 2018, frozen skipjack prices remained 12–15 percent below 2017 prices. Following the usual norm, the price was expected to firm up during the low catch period in the Pacific between July and September. However, skipjack price fell to a record low of USD 1?250 per tonne in August. Only since September, the market showed a general upturn reaching USD 1?650–1?700 per tonne CFR Bangkok by mid-October. The corresponding price in Manta (Ecuador) was USD 1?850 per tonne.


Tuna catches worldwide are expected to improve in the coming months with some eases in prices. As of mid October, catches were moderate in the Western Pacific. The skipjack prices reached in October might be the highest this year and they may weaken in the coming months along with improved catches. In the Eastern Pacific, the IATTC ‘veda’ fishing ended on 8 October, but frozen inventories at the canneries were low despite imports from other fishing zones. Prices in other fishing areas and frozen tuna markets will follow the trend set in the Bangkok market.

The positive demand trend for processed tuna is likely to continue worldwide during the second half of the year. Between January and August imports increased in many markets, both traditional and emerging, except in the EU28 where the demand remains weak.

Thailand, the largest producer of canned tuna, maintained its export growth at 10 percent between January and August, indicating a positive market trend in general. In Japan, the seasonal revival in demand for sashimi tuna is expected during the end of the year and New Year celebrations, while the existing strong demand for canned tuna is likely to continue. The upcoming summer season in Australia and New Zealand between December and March 2019 may stimulate demand for canned tuna in these markets. The positive import trends in East Asia are likely to persist if prices do not shoot up too much.