In 2019, frozen fish trade decreased both in kind and in value terms, mainly due to geopolitical tensions holding back economic growth. In particular, the trade conflict between China and the United States of America, the world’s two largest frozen fish merchants, affected business revenue through tariffs and wider economic uncertainty. According to FAO conclusions, this volatile market environment has led to exceptional price volatility across several categories of fish products. Prices have hit record lows or highs for several key species, including tuna, pangasius, and salmon.

By the end of 2019, the prospects for 2020 were somewhat more positive, as the global geopolitical situation looked like improving. However, the unprecedented for our time, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely revolutionized the global economy. In an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, governments around the world have introduced a number of measures, including directives on social exclusion, restrictions on working hours, and travel restrictions. The frozen fish sector, along with most industries, faces a gloomy forecast of demand, as well as a number of supply problems.

With the closure of the restaurant industry, the demand for catering services has evaporated, while retail sales have been marked by extreme volatility, as periods of panic shopping are accompanied by constant lulls. Demand for canned and frozen foods has risen sharply, as households tend to stock up on non-perishable food with fresh seafood. At the same time, online distributors are reporting increased interest as consumers are exploring home-based retail alternatives. However, in general, demand fell sharply, and prices fell on many types, especially those that are important for the restaurant industry. Other effects of the outbreak include the reversal of key seafood trade events, many of which provide important opportunities for networking in the industry and sourcing.

With regard to supply, labor shortages and other economic problems, including grim prospects for demand, have an extremely negative impact on seafood production worldwide. The delay in fisheries in aquaculture and a sharp decline in stocks, while the entire fishing fleet is idle. Subsequent actions, including processors, were affected by a lack of raw materials in addition to other operational difficulties. At the same time, logistics became expensive and slow, as carriers had to deal with closed or limited road borders and delays in medical examinations, while large-scale cancellations of flights directly affected the trade in some high-quality fresh products that are transported by air.

Frozen fish trade 2014-2018
In 2018, the global exports of frozen fish amounted to 17M tonnes, increasing by 6.5% against the previous year. The total export volume increased at an average annual rate of +2.8% from 2014 to 2018; the trend pattern remained relatively stable, with somewhat noticeable fluctuations being recorded throughout the analyzed period. The pace of growth was the most pronounced in 2017 with an increase of 7.1% year-to-year. Over the period under review, global frozen fish exports reached their maximum in 2018 and are likely to continue its growth in the near future.

In value terms, frozen fish exports stood at $43.9B (IndexBox estimates) in 2018.

Exports by country
The exports of the twelve major exporters of frozen fish, namely China, Russia, the U.S., Viet Nam, Norway, the Netherlands, Chile, Taiwan, Chinese, Japan, Spain, Namibia and India, represented more than half of total export.

From 2014 to 2018, the most notable rate of growth in terms of exports, amongst the main exporting countries, was attained by India, while exports for the other global leaders experienced more modest paces of growth.

In value terms, China ($7.6B) remains the largest frozen fish supplier worldwide, comprising 17% of global exports. The second position in the ranking was occupied by the U.S. ($3.6B), with a 8.2% share of global exports. It was followed by Russia, with a 6.7% share.

Export prices by country
In 2018, the average frozen fish export price amounted to $2,574 per tonne, increasing by 2.9% against the previous year. Over the period under review, the frozen fish export price, however, continues to indicate a relatively flat trend pattern. The most prominent rate of growth was recorded in 2018 when the average export price increased by 2.9% y-o-y. Over the period under review, the average export prices for frozen fish attained their maximum at $2,628 per tonne in 2014; afterwards, it flattened through to 2018.

Prices varied noticeably by the country of origin; the country with the highest price was Chile ($5,059 per tonne), while Namibia ($1,334 per tonne) was amongst the lowest.

From 2014 to 2018, the most notable rate of growth in terms of prices was attained by India, while the other global leaders experienced more modest paces of growth.

Imports by country
In 2018, China (2.2M tonnes), followed by Thailand (1.4M tonnes), Japan (1.4M tonnes), the U.S. (1M tonnes) and South Korea (0.9M tonnes) were the largest importers of frozen fish, together making up 40% of total imports. The following importers – Viet Nam (706K tonnes), Nigeria (581K tonnes), Spain (515K tonnes), the Netherlands (470K tonnes), Germany (436K tonnes), Cameroon (404K tonnes) and Russia (371K tonnes) – together made up 20% of total imports.

From 2014 to 2018, the most notable rate of growth in terms of imports, amongst the main importing countries, was attained by Viet Nam, while imports for the other global leaders experienced more modest paces of growth.

In value terms, the largest frozen fish importing markets worldwide were Japan ($6B), the U.S. ($5B) and China ($4B), together comprising 34% of global imports. Thailand, South Korea, Viet Nam, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, Nigeria and Cameroon lagged somewhat behind, together accounting for a further 29%.

Import prices by country
The average frozen fish import price stood at $2,582 per tonne in 2018, picking up by 2.2% against the previous year.

There were significant differences in the average prices amongst the major importing countries. In 2018, the country with the highest price was the U.S. ($5,112 per tonne), while Nigeria ($839 per tonne) was amongst the lowest.

From 2014 to 2018, the most notable rate of growth in terms of prices was attained by Russia, while the other global leaders experienced more modest paces of growth.