Fisheries and fishery resources are crucial in the Blue Pacific as a local food source, employment creator, a revenue generator and avenue for economic development.
In the Blue Pacific local lifestyles and diet revolve around the ocean and all that exists within it. The inextricable ties between people, culture and sea mean it is critical for countries to maintain meaningful stewardship of their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) while managing the development opportunities the region’s largest resource provides.
Sustainability of global fisheries is a growing concern. There is an upward trend for consumer awareness of food sourcing. Non-profit organisations such as the Maritime Stewardship Council (MSC) have the mission to end overfishing and restore fish stocks for future generations.
The Blue Pacific Difference
A unique selling point for many producers and exporters in the Blue Pacific is the transparent, sustainable supply chain. It is one which respects habitats, and ensures communities who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihoods.
Companies like SolTuna in Solomon Islands ensure they obtain the MSC blue fish tick. This makes them a good choice for larger supermarket chains who want to offer their customers certified, sustainable seafood.
In terms of the export market New Zealand is relatively small. However, a study conducted in 2019 showed a huge percentage (91 per cent) of New Zealanders purchased seafood regularly. The majority of consumers indicating their seafood consumption would increase in the next five years.
In Australia consumption of seafood decreased slightly between 2012–13 and 2017–18. This trended downwards from 15 kilograms in 2012–13 to 13.7 kilograms per person in 2017–18.
Spain continued to be the European country consuming the most fish, with 92 per cent of Spaniards eating fish and aquaculture products every month, followed by the Portuguese and Swedes at 87 per cent.
China has by far the largest seafood consumption footprint globally, at a whopping 65 million tonnes. In addition, they also seek out the higher proportion of premium/higher priced seafood. It remains an interesting market, with growing opportunities for small to medium-sized Pacific seafood producers.
The Distribution Conundrum
In order to further harness the growing market of sustainable seafood, Pacific seafood exporters must give consideration food safety and packaging quality to comply with importers’ requirements. Transportation of goods also plays a major part in the efficacy of distribution.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created havoc in air and sea freight globally, with huge disruptions to supply chain. Air freight remains a significant challenge.
A severe reduction in the number of international and local flights, and a sizeable increase in air freight costs, has made it impossible for some producers to continue supplying high-quality live and chilled seafood to their customers.
Vaccination programs are rolling out globally. There is light at the end of the tunnel with the promise of a slow return to normalcy. Industry experts project air freight pricing to remain elevated well into 2022. This is due to diminished routes and the protracted return of long-haul hold capacity.
Meanwhile, ocean shipping supply chain disruption and heightened air cargo demand continue to push up prices.
Returning to Pre-COVID-19 Capacity
Kuehne+Nagel Chief Executive Detlef Trefzger said he doesn’t expect capacity to return to pre-COVID levels globally until 2023 or 2024.
FedEx also indicated it is not expecting a full recovery in air cargo capacity until 2024. The express giant said trade volumes have surpassed pre-pandemic levels and are on course for the fastest year of growth in over a decade.
Sea freight rates are also projected to remain high. This is due to a number of reasons such as pre-pandemic imbalances of production and demand for goods; varying lockdown and reopening times of countries; port congestion and closures. An unbalanced recovery through 2021, with some countries exporting more goods than others is causing issues. These include displaced, empty containers, which is placing pressure on rates.
New Opportunities for the Taking
Looking beyond the current logistical challenges of COVID-19, there are growth opportunities for the Blue Pacific sustainable main seafood products in the Australian, Chinese, European and New Zealand markets. These include fish fillets (fresh or chilled), crustaceans including high-quality crab and prawns, sea cucumbers and seaweed.
Although seaweed is not represented in the seafood data, Asian and Pasifika diaspora communities represent an interesting target audience. With further education and promotion of the health benefits to seaweed consumption, this looks to be a growing area. You can read more about this in the PTI Europe article in this issue of Pacific Focus.