Canned tuna demand stable with moderate supplies and low prices of skipjack


Tuna packers in Asia and Europe held sufficient stocks until August-September 2019. Reefer carriers have had long queue at Bangkok port during this period. The global market for canned tuna remained receptive and exports increased from most countries, except Spain.

tuna market report

Raw Material Supply

Tuna catches worldwide were lower than average between July and September 2019, when the two scheduled fishing closures were in place in the Pacific Ocean. There was the July-September FAD fishing closure in the Western and Central Pacific and the 2-month IATTC ‘veda’ fishing closure from 29 July to 8 October in the Eastern Pacific. Nonetheless, skipjack prices were record low following short demand from Bangkok packers.

Catches in the Indian Ocean were low to moderate between July and September. Catches also slowed down in the Atlantic Ocean by August.

The raw material stocks at canneries in Asia, Europe and in the Indian Ocean remained good during the first half of 2019. This kept tuna prices under pressure, particularly skipjack, until August when catches also slowed down in the Indian and Atlantic regions.

Thai imports of frozen tuna for canning during the first half of the year decreased by 17.6 percent at 312 900 tonnes, compared with the same period of last year.

In Spain, imports of raw material including whole raw tuna and precooked loins totalled 144 900 tonnes during the first six months of 2019, representing a 4.3 percent decrease from the same period in 2018. Imports of whole fish declined by 16.3 percent to 83 800 tonnes, although precooked loin imports increased by 19 percent during the review period due to large supplies from China (+63 percent).


The global market for non-canned tuna sustained positive trends, particularly with increasing demand for frozen tuna loins. Japan remains the world’s largest market for non-canned tuna albeit with waning consumer demand for raw tuna. The United States of America remains the second most important market and with additional growth potential.


After the sluggish demand trend during the hot summer months of June and July, the sashimi trade in Japan started to improve from late September with increased supplies of fresh tuna from local and foreign sources. Unfortunately, this development took an abrupt halt when the typhoon Hagibis hit Japan in mid-October causing widespread damage not seen since 1958 across the Kanto region. Kanto Island has the largest consumer base in Japan (34 percent of Japan’s population), where the Greater Tokyo Area is situated along with six other prefectures.

Imports of fresh and frozen tuna in Japan including fillets posted a 4.8 percent decline to 104 700 tonnes during the first half of 2019 compared with the same period last year. An estimated 75 percent or 78 000 tonnes of this total consisted of non-canned sashimi/sushi grade fish. The decline in fresh air-flown tuna imports continued during this period to a total of 5 900 tonnes, reaching a five-year low.

Under the frozen tuna category, imports of high-priced whole bluefin tuna fillet (32 300 tonnes) confirmed the market’s preference for products that have longer shelf life. Total imports of tuna loins increased by 10.8 percent to 32 300 tonnes during the review period compared with 29 200 tonnes in 2018. This total included 18 600 tonnes of bluefin tuna mainly supplied by Malta, Turkey, Spain and Croatia; and also 5 800 tonnes of yellowfin and 4 800 tonnes
of bigeye loins, also known for their redmeat quality, mainly shipped from Indonesia, China and the Republic of Korea.

United States of America

The US market for non-canned tuna remained firm in the first half of 2019 with an 18 percent growth compared with the same period in 2018. Fresh tuna imports remained stable at 11 800 tonnes (+1.8 percent), twice as much in quantity imported in Japan during this period. In response to the good summer demand at the restaurant and retail trade, imports of frozen tuna improved significantly to 3 100 tonnes (+67.8 percent) for whole/dressed fish and to 21 700 tonnes (+18.5 percent) for frozen fillet and steaks during the review period.


Demand trend was mixed in Europe, where frozen fillets are more popular. In the EU28, imports of frozen tuna fillet were down by 7.8 percent to 11 400 tonnes during the first half of 2019, compared with the same period in 2018. Supplies were lower from Southeast Asia, which is subject to higher tariff, but increased from Ecuador, which is subject to Zero tariff, and from Mexico.

Tuna fillet imports in the Russian Federation increased by 68 percent to 2 300 tonnes, mainly supplied
by China, Viet Nam and Indonesia.

Canned Tuna Trade

Global demand for processed and canned tuna continued to rise, supported by stable and cheaper raw material supplies. Imports in the two large markets, the United States of America and the EU28, were steady but with minimum growth in supplies, whereas import increases in the Middle Eastern markets were phenomenal.


Thailand, Ecuador and Spain remained the top three suppliers of processed and canned tuna to the global market during the first half of 2019, while China took the fourth position from the Philippines.

The top exporter, Thailand, posted a double-digit growth (table above) supported by substantial increases in exports to the Middle East markets and minor increases to the US market (+2.0 percent). Thai exports showed a negative trend in the EU28 (-21 percent).

Ecuador shipped 64 percent of its exports to the EU28, 11 percent to the United States of America, 9 percent to Colombia, 7 percent to Argentina and 3.5 percent to Chile.

China’s prominence in the processed tuna exports could be attributed to aggressive sales of precooked loins, particularly to the EU28 and Thailand, while exports to the United States of America declined following the rise in tariffs (now 25 percent) imposed on Chinese products in that market.


Demand for canned and processed tuna remained positive in most of the markets worldwide during the first half of 2019, supported by weaker prices of frozen skipjack during this period compared with 2018. Markets in the Middle East remained strong for Asian origin products. Consumers preference for higher value products also continued in the western markets.

North and South America

According to the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), total imports of canned/processed tuna in the United States of America increased by 2.6 percent to 115 600 tonnes during the first six months of 2019 compared with 112 700 tonnes of imports in the same period in 2018.

In this total, the light meat imports (skipjack and yellowfin) increased by 3.7 percent to 72 300 tonnes, whereas white meat albacore tuna imports decrease by 2.8 percent to 18 300, following large imports during the first quarter of the year. Imports of cooked loins also fell to 25 048 tonnes (-3.6 percent) with lower supplies from China because of the high import tariff.

In Canada, canned tuna imports increased by 5 percent during this period.

In Latin America, imports declined in Colombia (-8 percent to 16 100 tonnes), but increased in Peru (+169 percent at 12 500 tonnes) and also in Chile (+33 percent at 11 600 tonnes).

European Union (Member Organizations)

Consumer demand for canned /pouched tuna remained dormant in the EU28 markets during the second quarter of 2019, although the half yearly import data for 2019 displayed a 3.8 percent rise to 382 200 tonnes compared with the same period in 2018. Nearly 72 percent of these (275 200 tonnes, +5.5 percent) was sourced from non-member countries. Among the top importers, Spain imported mostly cooked loins for reprocessing. Some 95 percent of the Netherlands imports of canned tuna was re-exported within the EU28.

Extra-EU28 imports of pre-cooked loins increased by 13 percent to 93 000 tonnes as a result of large supplies from China (+56 percent), Indonesia (+32 percent), Papua New Guinea (+20 percent) and Viet Nam (+89 percent). Imports from the second largest source, Ecuador, increased only by 1.4 percent.

Others in Europe

Imports in the Swiss market dipped by 24 percent indicative of over stocks at importers/distributors levels. However, imports in the Russian Federation increased by 40 percent during the review period.

Asia / Pacific and Others

Canned tuna imports in Japan continued to be lower as domestic production increases, taking advantage of the low raw material prices. Imports in Australia also declined during the first half of 2019 as a result of the weak local currency that translated into higher import prices.

The Middle East markets were strong during the first six months of 2019, where imports of canned tuna increased by 25–30 percent in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Libya, in comparison with the same period in 2018. Positive imports also continued in Yemen, Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria and other minor markets. It is interesting to note the 350 percent increase in canned tuna exports from Iran (1 000 tonnes) to the neighbouring markets of Iraq, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan between January and April 2019.


The average price of frozen skipjack, CFR Thailand was at a four-year low from January to September 2019, down to USD 1 243 per tonne, compared with USD 1 536 per tonne in 2018, USD 1 765 per tonne in 2017 and USD 1 411 per tonne in 2016. It even declined to USD 1 000 per tonne in June/ July due to low demand from Thailand, though it bounced back to USD 1 350 per tonne in August, when catches were low in the Pacific because of fishing closures.


Tuna catches will improve in the western and central Pacific starting in October/November 2019, as the FAD closure ended in September and also in the Eastern Pacific from mid-October when the IATTC Veda fishing closure was completed. Hence, some price softening for raw material may occur from November onwards.

The positive demand for canned and processed tuna is expected to persist worldwide as long as prices remain stable and close to 2019 levels.[:]

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