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International Crab Trade Declining

02 September 2016

GLOBAL - With only one tanner crab processing plant left in Alaska, which by law cannot process more than 30 per cent of the total volume, a significant amount of this species may be left unprocessed, unless regulators come up with a regulation change.

The California dungeness crab fishery is still closed due to high occurrences of domoic acid in the crabs caught. California crabbers are now pushing for changes in the regulations so that they can resume the fishery.

The Russian Federal Agency of Fisheries (Rosrybolovstvo) has approved a quota of 41,500 tonnes of snow crab to be caught in the Russian Far East in 2016. This is slightly higher than 2015, when the quota was 39,500 tonnes.

At the same time, Russian authorities are introducing incentives to assure that more of the snow crab caught in Russian waters is sold on the domestic market. Currently, most of the catch is exported.

In recent years, snow crab has become a popular target for Norwegian crab fishermen. At the North Atlantic Seafood Forum (NASF) in March in Bergen, Norway, it was estimated that Norwegian catches of snow crab might increase rapidly, from 200 tonnes in 2013 and 9,800 tonnes in 2015 to as much as 50,000 to 75,000 tonnes within ten years. New investments will be needed, particularly to enable the fleet to land the crab live for on-shore processing (Source: NASF).

International trade

Overall, international trade in crab declined by 8.6 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014. Most exporters registered a decline in their shipments, except for the USA, which had a slight (+3.2 per cent) increase, and the Republic of Korea, which posted significant growth (+28.4 per cent). Taiwan Province of China had a massive reduction in shipments, which went from 63,100 tonnes in 2015 to just 39,500 tonnes in 2016 (-37.4 per cent).

Japan imported almost 20 per cent less crab in 2015 compared to 2014, with total volume going from 44,200 tonnes to 35,500 tonnes. Most of this reduction was accounted for by a 45.5 per cent decline in Russian crab exports to Japan, while the USA shipped some 35.4 per cent more crab to Japan in 2015.

US imports increased slightly, with only minor changes for the most important suppliers. Russia registered just a very acute decline (-1.9 per cent), while exports from China remained stable.

US imports of swimmer crab from Asia have increased steadily over the past three years. Significantly higher shipments from both Indonesia and China have created an oversupply situation, resulting in lower prices.

Prices

Prices for snow crab have been high recently, but observers at NASF in March thought they had now hit the ceiling in some markets, in spite of the lower quotas for snow crab in Alaska.

Russia's recent push to deter illegal crab fishing, has made supplies tighter, which is also contributing to high prices. This has greatly affected Japan, where demand is strong. As a result, Japanese buyers are actively trying to secure supplies from both Alaska and Canada to substitute lower shipments from Russia.

Outlook

The fight against illegal crab fishing in Russia has led to a decline in supplies, and this coupled with lower snow crab quotas in Alaska is bringing total crab supplies down.

Consequently, one would expect prices to increase, but apparently this will vary from market to market.

Prices are expected to rise in Japan, while stabilisation or even a slight decline is more likely in the USA. Quotas for red king crab in the Barents Sea will increase, but with relatively modest growth, which will have a limited effect on prices. Furthermore, the Barents Sea crab is not a major factor on the US market.

TheFishSite News Desk



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