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Low Demand, Bad Weather Lead to Chinese Tilapia Supply Drop

23 August 2016

GLOBAL - In 2015, the US and EU markets weakened while average import prices also declined. Industry sources estimate there was a 40 per cent drop in Chinese tilapia production for the year, due to unfavourable weather conditions coupled with continued lower demand in the major markets of the USA and EU. In Asia, markets remain firm reporting higher imports as well as strong local production, reports FAO Globefish.


Total Chinese exports of tilapia in 2015 declined to total 391,200 tonnes, which is a reduction of roughly 24,000 tonnes. Total exports were approximately 1 million tonnes in whole fish equivalent. Estimates of more than 10,000 tonnes of live tilapia were exported from China to Hong Kong SAR.

In 2015, the Chinese tilapia industry was affected by challenges related to lower demand from its major market, the USA, as well as antibiotic related issues. Processing plants controlled production as result of the general slowdown in demand. Average export prices of Chinese frozen tilapia fillets in 2015 weakened by 15.3 per cent compared with 2014, lowering to USD 3.86 per kg.

Frozen fillet exports, which make up 39 per cent of Chinese tilapia exports, declined primarily to the USA. However, exports of frozen breaded tilapia increased with positive growth into the main markets, namely the USA, Mexico, Côte d'Ivoire and Zambia. Exports also increased by 1 564 tonnes to Russia reaching a total of 2 204 tonnes.

Iran has emerged as a potential market for tilapia fillets as imports continue on an increasing trend to reach 10 856 tonnes in 2015, up by 15.4 per cent compared with 2015. Tilapia, which is a cheaper alternative, has been increasingly replacing the frozen fillet market dominated by New Zealand hoki. Average export prices to this market in 2015 was USD 3.88 per kg from USD 4.91 per kg in 2014.


Total tilapia imports into the US market in 2015 were 3 per cent lower compared with 2014, reaching 224 000 tonnes, primarily due to lower supplies of fresh and whole tilapia fillets. However, there were nuances depending on the product category.

Imports grew for the whole frozen product category, with China dominating supplies and reporting growth for its year-on-year imports for this product. In the fresh tilapia fillet category, supplies increased from Colombia as well as from Ecuador. Prices overall declined, with average import prices of fresh tilapia fillets weakening by 2.9 per cent to USD 7.45 per kg. Honduras remained the largest supplier despite a decline in shipments to the US market. The whole frozen tilapia category posted marginal growth as China supplied more into the US market, as import value weakened. Average wholesale price of whole frozen tilapia fell significantly from USD 2.49 per kg in 2014 to USD 2.11 per kg last year due to devaluation of the Chinese yuan.

Besides China, which is the leading supplier to the US market, supplies increased from Viet Nam, Thailand, India, Bangladesh and Mynamar. Viet Nam particularly grew its exports to the USA, more than doubling its volumes in 2015 compared with the previous year.


EU tilapia imports in 2015 weakened to total 29 345 tonnes of whole frozen and frozen tilapia fillets, a decline of 4.4 per cent compared with 2014. Spain remained the leading importer of frozen tilapia fillets although the country imported 741 tonnes less (-12 per cent) to total 5 319 tonnes. Germany showed positive growth (+18 per cent) in 2015 imports to reach 2 742 tonnes.

Overall EU imports were comprised approximately of 56 per cent frozen fillets, 44 per cent whole frozen and a small volume of fresh tilapia fillets. Average import prices into the EU declined significantly with frozen fillet prices taking a large dip (-14.4 per cent) to reach USD 3.48 per kg while whole frozen tilapia prices declined by 8.4 per cent to USD 1.91 per kg. Volume wise, imports of whole frozen tilapia declined marginally (-0.6 per cent) in 2015 compared with the year before to reach 12 897 tonnes. Interestingly, in the whole frozen category, import prices for supplies from Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Taiwan Province of China (the latter only for premium quality products) strengthened.

By far, China was the leading supplier in all product categories and supplied more whole frozen tilapia in 2015 compared with 2014. Total imports of tilapia from China reached 21 177 tonnes in 2015, a slight increase of 0.9 per cent from 2014.


Tilapia import volumes to Asian countries are relatively small as most domestic production enters the local markets. In 2015, approximately 8,500 tonnes were imported into Asia. Hong Kong SAR was the largest importer among Asian countries, importing 3,348 tonnes of frozen tilapia (whole and fillet), a significant increase of 33 per cent compared with 2014.

Imports into Japan totalled 275 tonnes mainly comprised of sashimi quality tilapia, which is supplied mostly by Taiwan Province of China. Average import price of this tilapia was JPY 1355 per kg, 15 per cent higher than a year ago.

In recent years, demand for live tilapia usually peaks during the Lunar New Year in retail markets and seafood restaurants in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan Province of China. Live tilapia in Malaysia is usually priced at around USD 7 per kg) and in some restaurants the price was tagged at USD 15 per kg during the Lunar New Year season.

In Malaysia, supplies come almost entirely from local sources while live tilapia exports takes place to Singapore. Singapore imports approximately 2,500 tonnes of tilapia annually, comprised of about 1,500 tonnes of live tilapia from Malaysia and close to 1,000 tonnes of fresh and frozen tilapia from both China and Indonesia.

In Taiwan Province of China, overall tilapia exports in 2015 declined by 6,424 tonnes to reach 22,190 tonnes with frozen fillets accounting for 87 per cent of total exports. In terms of only whole frozen tilapia, export volumes declined significantly by 19 per cent in 2015 compared with the year before.

The USA was the leading market for this product category in 2015, taking roughly a 60 per cent market share of Taiwan Province of China's supplies. In value terms, Taiwan Province of China's export prices also declined to most destinations. Looking at only frozen fillets in contrast, Taiwan Province of China increased export volumes by 21.8 per cent in 2015 compared to 2014, while average exports prices strengthened in most markets. Indeed, average export prices of frozen tilapia fillet in 2015 were USD 8.86 per kg, 12.4 per cent higher than in 2014.


Extreme cold weather in China and Taiwan Province of China in early 2016 affected many fish farms, including tilapia farms. Looking forwards, this is expected to result in lower production volume and subsequently higher prices.

TheFishSite News Desk

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