Seafood has long been an important source of nutrition for humans. But today, it is also an increasingly major source of economic value. In many industries around the world, seafood products are driving significant trade and export, creating a global selection of high-quality goods.
As one would expect, the strong economic opportunity in the seafood industry is quite an attraction for entrepreneurs around the world. If you are also considering participating in seafood exports, here you’ll understand the statistics underlying the sector and what to expect from this global industry.
Table of Contents
Seafood is rich, not only in nutrients but also in the various applications that its products can be put to. From hospitality to medicine and more, seafood products are employed in numerous ways that add value to our lives.
Seafood is rich in nutrients that are essential for a healthy human diet. As a result, we have seen steadily rising levels of fish consumption over the years. Highlighting this, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that, between 1990 and 2018, there was an over 122% rise in food fish consumption globally1. More than 3.3 billion people around the world obtain nearly 20% of their daily protein intake from fish.
In 2018, global fish production reached 179 million metric tons, and the FAO states that roughly 88% of this haul was used for direct human consumption.2 Just 12% was applied for non-food purposes such as the distillation of fish oil, fishmeal, pharmaceuticals, and other seafood by-products.
Both fishmeal and fish oil are regarded as critical ingredients for farmed fish. They are thought to be easily digestible and nutritious, making them a significant proportion of non-food fishery products in the seafood industry. Fish oil also has important nutritional value for humans. It is considered as “the richest available source of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)”.3 Together, they take up more than 60 million metric tons in global exports yearly4.
The business of seafood exports is booming. According to Statista, the global seafood industry is expected to reach nearly $154 billion in value by 20235. Expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4% between 2012 and 2017, the seafood market is swelling on the back of ballooning global demand6.
Reports indicate that this growth is fuelled primarily by increased trade in crustaceans and salmon globally. Countries such as India, Mexico, Ecuador, Vietnam, and Indonesia have ramped up exports due to more efficient production7. Other exporting countries like Chile and Norway have also increased salmon exports recently, and destination countries such as the US and China have increased imports.
Most notably, the FAO reports that the rise in global seafood trade has been driven more by a boost in the value of trades rather than an increase in volume. For an industry that can be susceptible to over-exploitation of sources, this is a welcome change. Further, even where rising volumes have been recorded, the sources of the increase are more typically attributed to aquaculture production, which is fuelling optimism in the sector.
The seafood industry is driven by two major methods of production: wild catch (also called capture fisheries) and aquaculture production. The wild catch is the exploitation of seafood resources available in unfarmed environments. Aquaculture production is essentially seafood farming, involving the rearing of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, algae, aquatic plants, and other organisms.
While the FAO reports that global capture fisheries production has risen by greater than 14% since 1990, aquaculture production has far outstripped this. With a growth rate of over 527% between 1990 and 2018, the global seafood industry is becoming more sustainable by the day. Production reached a record high of 114.5 million metric tons in live weight by 2018, and aquaculture production is expected to enjoy a greater share of total seafood production globally. The contribution of aquaculture to global production was pegged at 46.8% in 2016, and this figure continues to rise yearly.
Between them, the top 7 seafood-exporting countries take up a sizable chunk of the global seafood trade. Together, they enjoy export values in excess of $100 billion and are largely responsible for driving the industry. Here’s the data on these countries, including how much they enjoy in yearly exports and their primary seafood exports.
China is a global leader in seafood production and exports. The country has been one of the largest exporters of seafood products since 2002, not just in the wild catch but also in aquaculture production. Data from Statista indicates that China’s exports for 2019 exceeded $22 billion in value. The bulk of China’s exports include squid and frozen cuttlefish products, frozen fish, and frozen prawns and shrimp.
China’s largest seafood trade partners are Japan, Hong Kong, and the US, all of which are top destinations for the country’s seafood exports. The seafood industry constitutes a huge employer of labor in the Chinese coastal areas, with roughly 14 million people estimated to be employed there as of 2010.
One of the Nordic countries, Norway, has ready access to prime fishing waters, which tells on its position in this list. The country is a major seafood trade partner with the European Union (EU), which accounts for almost 67% of Norway’s total exports. The Norwegian seafood export industry had one of its best years in 2015 when it exported fish and seafood products worth NOK75 billion (nearly $9 billion)8. As of 2019, Statista reports that the country’s seafood exports had grown to $11.9 billion.
Norway’s major exports are salmon and trout. Other seafood such as codfish, clipfish, shrimp, snow crab, and king crab also constitute significant parts of the country’s exports.
Vietnam has a coastline spanning more than 3,000 kilometers – a fact which, unsurprisingly, contributes to its flourishing seafood exports. The country has come a long way in its export industry, rising from annual export values of $776 million in 1997 to nearly $6 billion in 2015. Recent data from 2019 indicates that the country’s seafood export industry pulled in almost $10 billion in that year alone. Vietnam’s total yearly output is pegged at roughly 7 million tons, and most of that comes from aquaculture production (between 65% to 70%).
Japan is reported to be the largest market for seafood sourced in Vietnam. The two countries have a long and prosperous seafood trade relationship, and this is expected to continue.
While the US is one of the largest importers of seafood, it is also a significant participant in the sell side of the global market. The country’s position as the fourth-largest seafood supplier in the world is recent, however. With growing production volumes, the US has aggressively expanded its seafood exports over the past five years – growing trade volumes by 43%. As of 2019, annual US revenue from fish and fishery exports was $5.5 billion.
The country’s major exports are Alaskan Pollock, fish roe, salmon, and surimi. Together, these products made up 40% of total US exports in 2014, and the country continues to maintain a major presence in the market for these products.
India has recently enjoyed increased fortunes in its seafood exports. The country reached all-time high export values with its $4.6 billion fish and fishery exports in 2017. Those figures soared to nearly $7 billion in 2019, as reported by global statistics provider, Statista.
Prawns and frozen shrimp constitute the majority of India’s exports. Both products take up 37% of the country’s total export volume and are worth 67% of its total export value. Frozen fish is also a significant seafood export from India, accounting for 11% of its export volume. India’s largest seafood export partner is the US, which buys up to 26% of its produce. Southeast Asia and the EU are also significant trade partners, attracting 25.7% and 20% of India’s seafood trade, respectively.
The Chilean fish and seafood industry has also experienced rapid growth recently, mostly due to its investment in fisheries, aquaculture, and necessary infrastructure. The only South American country on this list, Chile has cemented its position as the leading continental seafood exporter with annual export values of $4 billion. Recent 2019 figures indicate that these values have risen to roughly $6.7 and rising.
Chile’s top export species are mussels, trout, and salmon. The country is also highly regarded for its farmed Atlantic salmon – Chile is the second-largest supplier of this species globally. The bulk of Chile’s exports go to Japan, Brazil, the US, and the EU.
Canada’s seafood industry produces the vast majority of its yearly haul for international trade. Fully 85% of the total fish and fishery products processed by the country’s harvesters find their way into the global market. Canada’s industry is also significantly helped by its highly-developed aquaculture sector, which employs 14,000 people.
Up to 2017, the country experienced very stable fortunes in its seafood exports, generating $4.2 billion in annual export values. More recent data indicates that these export values have risen to $5.5 billion, and they are only expected to grow in the near future. Lobster is Canada’s leading seafood product, bringing the country $1.52 billion in 2014 alone. Atlantic salmon, scallop, queen crab, snow crab, and shrimp make up the rest of its leading export species.
It is worth noting that, while the EU does not make it into this list, the countries of the EU are collectively regarded as the world’s top seafood producers. Statista reports that, for 2019, total EU seafood exports produced export values of $36.2 billion – well over $10 billion more than the closest contender.
One of the major attractions of seafood is the astonishing variety of fishery products. From staples like lobster, crab, clams, mussels, Atlantic salmon, tilapia, trout, scallop, to exotic delicacies like squid and pufferfish in Japan, there’s a seafood product for everyone.
These products also cater to often varying palates, which is why an astute supplier can potentially find markets for their exports all over the globe. This leads us to the major benefits of trade in seafood exports.
It’s undoubted that a unique opportunity exists in the seafood sector, and there may be no better time than now to take advantage.
Although tastes in seafood vary from region to region, certain species enjoy almost universal trade. According to statistics from Rabobank, whitefish is the most traded export species as of 20199. The export category includes many species of fish with white flesh, such as tilapia and pangasius.
Just like certain countries are global leaders in seafood exports, there are others that top the world charts for seafood imports. The EU, while not a country, is the largest seafood importing region in the world, with 2017 import values of nearly $30 billion. The US, Japan, China, and South Korea round off the top four global seafood importers. You might also explore import opportunities in emerging markets in countries like the United Arab Emirates, Poland, Jordan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Kiribati, South Africa, Honduras, Malaysia, Oman, Iran, Spain, Germany, France, Australia, Ecuador, etc.
Although the international trade in seafood is potentially lucrative, inefficiencies still affect profits in the sector. For instance, the FAO reports that roughly 35% of global seafood production ends up either lost or wasted. There are several reasons for this waste, including poor infrastructure, inefficient policies and regulatory frameworks, as well as lack of physical access to markets. To ensure you make the best of your involvement in this sector, it makes sense to invest the time in designing an efficient operations framework. This includes procuring sufficient storage, skilled labor, and completion of relevant export/import regulatory processes in good time.
Overall, the seafood industry presents a unique opportunity for businesses that want to tap into a global market. With Alibaba.com, you have the perfect opportunity to find reliable international trade partners on a platform designed to help you succeed.
Visit the platform’s food and beverages page to see the wide variety of fish and fishery products you can sell on Alibaba.com.