With more than 90% of the world’s fish stocks either fully-exploited or being fished beyond capacity, it is frequently highlighted in seafood circles that the supply of products from wild-capture fisheries has reached a production plateau and the onus is now firmly on aquaculture to come up with the additional fish protein that’s required to sustainably feed the fast-growing global population.
Indeed, while the wild catch sector has increased its overall contribution to human consumption this past year (thanks largely to the recovery from a long and severe El Nino period which in particular has seen fisheries in the Western Pacific generate landings a few million tons higher than those of 2016), it is aquaculture that has added the most seafood to the supply chain in the last 12 months.
And with virtually no harvest increase currently coming from freshwater whitefish farming, essentially just two aquaculture products have led this drive – Atlantic salmon and shrimp – and both are expected to continue their respective growth trends through 2018.
Achieving growth of any level hasn’t been straightforward for either sector. As is the case with most aquaculture systems, the majority of salmon and shrimp grow-out sites are exposed to the natural environment, making it difficult for farmers to protect their stocks from hostile threats like parasites and harmful bacteria. While many of these challenges can’t be avoided, in a lot of cases they can be managed, and a number of improvement measures were put in place by many salmon and shrimp growers this year.
By and large, their efforts have been paying off. In the salmon sector, recent industry analysis has highlighted that farming in both Norway and Chile, the two leading producing nations, overcame a record contraction in supply in 2016 caused by increased sea lice resistance (Norway) and a major algae bloom (Chile) that will lead to an increase in supply of around 5% this year to 2.26 million tonnes. Of this, Norway will harvest around 1.2 million tonnes and Chile will produce an estimated 546,000 tonnes.
While the 2017 harvest volume is below the 2.3 million tonnes reported in 2015, production is back on a growth trend, with an estimated increase of 7% leading to a harvest of 2.4 million tonnes in 2018, and then by about the same margin to almost 2.5 million tonnes the year after.
Of the 2018 harvest, Norway’s production is expected to increase by 7% to 1.3 million tonnes, while Chile’s harvest is forecast to rise by 9% to 600,000 tonnes.
Similarly, with recent diseases such as early mortality syndrome (EMS) largely under control, global shrimp production is now increasing at a rate of just under 5% per year. This should see it reach a total volume of around 3.5 million tonnes this year.
The shrimp sector’s current leading lights are India and Ecuador, with both countries having seen their production levels soar in recent years. India’s 2017 shrimp harvest is expected to exceed 600,000 tonnes, up from less than 435,000 tonnes last year, while Ecuador’s production should reach a level of 420,000 tonnes, an increase of 11% compared to 2016. Ecuadorian shrimp production has in fact increased by 193% in the past nine years.
Also in Latin America, Mexico has recovered after being hit by EMS in 2013, while Brazil is expected to ramp up its recent production level of around 75,000 tonnes to 100,000 tonnes by 2019. It should also be noted, however, that the impact of the overall growth has been tempered from a global perspective by a contraction of the Chinese harvest, which is expected to fall by 20% to 900,000 tonnes this year.
Industry observers say this year’s increase in the global shrimp supply has been matched by demand and as a result prices have been slightly higher than the long-term average. Shrimp demand in 2018 is expected to remain strong, in spite of more product availability, which should see prices stay firm.
Salmon prices, meanwhile, have fluctuated dramatically over the course of 2017. Globally, record prices were seen in the first-half of the year before falling below 2016 levels by the end of summer. While somewhat lower salmon prices can be expected next year despite constrained long-term supply and strong global demand, they are not expected to fall to historical averages. Many of the industry’s leading players believe the likelihood is that they will remain as volatile and unpredictable as they have been in recent years.