SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Asian Nikkei] by Tomio Shida – August 25, 2016

The world is eating more fish as emerging economies become richer. Shigeru Ito, president of the Japanese seafood company Maruha Nichiro, told the Nikkei that despite China’s slowing economy, the world’s most populous country has an insatiable appetite for fishery products.

Q: Is there any change in demand?

A: In Europe, the consumption of Alaska pollock and shrimp has been declining since the second half of last year. Shipments of Vietnamese basa fish, which Germany imports, have slowed as well. Nigeria and other resource-rich countries, which became buyers of fishery products from overseas, are losing steam, too.

That said, global demand is brisk, particularly in the U.S., China and Southeast Asia.

Q: Is China still on an “eating spree”?

A: Despite a slowing economy, China is actively buying seafood from abroad. For example, nearly 90% of Cuban lobsters are being bought up by the Chinese. Neither Japan nor Europe can keep up with China’s buying power. The consumption of saury and other fish has been increasing in recent years.

Q: Hasn’t the strong yen helped improve Japan’s buying power?

A: The U.S. and other countries buy Patagonian toothfish, which is caught in the Antarctic Ocean, for nearly $40 per kilogram. Japanese can only pay around $25. The fish cannot be sold at stores for more than $30.

A modest strengthening of the yen is not enough to fill the gap between the buying power of Japan and that of other countries. China is buying relatively cheap jaw meat and cheek meat, too.

U.S. shrimp imports were about half of Japan’s in the early 1980s but overtook them in 1999. Japan’s shrimp imports were one-third of U.S. imports in 2014. Japan’s total marine product imports are now less than 2.5 million tons, after peaking at 3.8 million tons in 2001.

Q: Why has Japan’s buying power declined so much?

A: Japan was the main consumer of global fishery products until the 1980s, but global demand for seafood began rising as the world population grew and emerging countries became richer. As a result, prices went up due to a limited supply of wild seafood.

The wealthy in the U.S. and the growing middle class in emerging countries are willing to buy pricey seafood to stay fit. Meanwhile, Japanese are not eating as much fish as they used to, due to an aging population with fewer children and an increase in single-person households. With falling incomes since the collapse of the bubble economy, the Japanese have not been able to keep up with the global trend of buying fishery products at high prices.