Is the octopus fishery off North Africa over-exploited?

The economic crisis is affecting sales in Europe, where imports are down. The picture is mixed with regard to octopus supplies. The EU claims stocks off North West Africa are over-exploited, but at the same time octopus shipments from Morocco and Mauritania are up. The Japanese market picked up in 2012.

The situation regarding the octopus fishery off North West Africa (Mauritania and Morocco) is somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, the EU Commissioner of Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, has claimed that this fishery is over-exploited. On the other hand, recent shipments of frozen octopus, particularly from Mauritania, seem to suggest that landings are good at the present time. The facts may be disputed, and it may all come down to a game of political positioning. The new fisheries agreement between the EU and Mauritania does not include the operation of the Galician cephalopod fleet in the local fishing grounds “due to over-exploitation”. Some sources say that the catches are made by Mauritanian flagged vessels, but the country’s industrial fleet is registered in third countries, mainly China. In other words, it may be that Chinese interests are moving in on the Mauritanian octopus industry.

Morocco was the main supplier of octopus to the Italian market in 2012, displacing Spain and Mexico. Croatia too exports octopus (pictured) to Italy.


Huge increase in Chinese imports of octopus

According to Chinese statistics, imports of octopus into China during November last year increased dramatically to 672 tonnes valued at USD 4.3 million. Compared with imports in November 2011, this represents a threefold increase by volume and a fourfold increase by value. Spain was the main supplier, followed by Morocco. However, China exported much more than it imported. Figures for November 2012 show that China exported 5 248 tonnes of octopus during that month, at a value of USD 36.5 million. The main destinations for these shipments were the Republic of Korea, which took 69% of Chinese exports and Japan, which reduced its imports from China. Prices paid for Chinese octopus were quite variable, though. The Republic of Korea paid USD 4.74 per kg in November, while Japan paid USD 12.40 per kg (FOB China).

Japanese imports of octopus increased significantly in 2012, from 38 400 tonnes to 47 400 tonnes (+23.4%). Mauritania shipped considerably more octopus and increased its importance as the main supplier to Japan. In 2012, Mauritania exported 21 400 tonnes to Japan, an increase of 57% over 2011. Morocco also had a slight increase in shipments to Japan. China, on the contrary, lost market share and shipped 18% less octopus to Japan.
Spanish imports of octopus in 2012 declined by 12.3%, mainly because of the supply situation, although most probably the economy should bear its share of the responsibility for this development. The main suppliers to Spain were again Morocco, Mauritania and Portugal, and shipments increased from all three sources. Imports declined from India, Senegal, Mexico and Viet Nam.

Italian imports of octopus also declined in 2012, by 16.7%. Morocco took over as the main supplier and increased its shipments to Italy by 43%, while Spain and Mexico saw reductions in their shipments to Italy by 22% and 45% respectively. Octopus prices now seem to have stabilized both in Japan and in Europe. Since September last year there has been no movement in either market. With the present supply situation, it is expected that this stability will continue for some time.


Peruvian exports of squid reached record levels

Argentinean vessels have reported good catches south of latitude 44 at the beginning of the season. According to data provided by the industry, jiggers are catching about 20-25 tonnes each per day. However, the sizes caught were rather small (S and SS). Despite the good catches, fishing companies are apprehensive about the market and also about the increase in operational costs. Peru has reported that its exports of squid, jumbo flying squid and cuttlefish have exceeded expectations. In 2012, exports reached a record value in spite of the global economic crisis. The main reason given for this positive result is diversification of markets. Growth in Asian markets is pointed out as very important for the export growth. However, exports to traditional markets such as Spain also grew. The main destinations for Peruvian cephalopods were China (34.8% of the total), Spain (16.8%), Republic of Korea (14.3%) and Thailand (5.7%).

Peruvian squid exports went up by an impressive 87.1% during the first eleven months of 2012, to reach USD 370.4 million. The expected forecast was only USD 260.2 million for the whole year. Japan increased its imports of squid slightly (+1.6%) in 2012 compared with 2011. This was the highest import figure since 2007. However, in January, imports dropped by 20% in volume and 15% in value. Imports in January 2013 amounted to 2 168 tonnes valued at USD 15.9 million (CIF Japan). The main suppliers to the Japanese market in 2012 were China (45% of total imports), followed by Peru (11.3%) and Chile (10.5%). While shipments from China were stable compared with 2011, there was a decline in shipments from Peru and Thailand, and a significant increase in shipments from Chile (+108%). Italian imports of squid fell by 11% in 2012. Lower shipments from the main suppliers Spain (-5.3%) and Thailand (-13.5) were registered. Most suppliers had to accept lower shipments, except China, which increased slightly (+4.5%).


Prices generally stable in Madrid

In February, prices for South American squid on the Madrid market went up. Prices for fresh squid also went up in early February. For all other products, prices were stable.
Thai imports of squid fell significantly in December. Imports were down by 30%, to 6 308 tonnes during the month. Total Thai squid imports for 2012 amounted to 60 805 tonnes (all product varieties), worth more than USD 138 million. The average import price per kg was USD 2.27 CIF Thailand. The main suppliers of squid to the Thai market were Myanmar, China, Viet Nam and Peru. Thai exports of squid in 2012 amounted to 34 500 tonnes worth USD 228 million. The average export price was thus USD 6.61 per kg FOB Thailand. The main markets for Thai squid were Taiwan Province of China, Italy and Japan.

Smoked cuttlefish processed in a Lithuanian factory.

Spanish squid imports rose by 10% in 2012. Most of this increase was due to a strong increase in imports from the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) (+40.5%), while other suppliers such as China, the USA and Morocco registered declining exports to Spain. The number two and three suppliers (India and Peru) registered slight increases in shipments to Spain in 2012. USA imports of squid continued to grow in 2012, albeit at a modest pace. Imports increased by 5.3%. There were only minor changes in shipments for the main suppliers, but new suppliers appear to have entered this business. China is still by far the main supplier, accounting for over half of all US squid imports. After five years of substantial growth, US exports of squid declined by 22.5% in 2012. The main markets were China and the Philippines. However, there was a decline in imports from China by 10.5%. Other important markets such as Spain and Peru also registered declines.

Squid prices in Europe declined considerably towards the end of 2012. On the Japanese market squid prices were more stable. Japanese cold storage holdings are still very low, although they vary seasonally. Nevertheless, Japanese buyers seem to be holding back and avoiding building up inventory. Cuttlefish prices in Japan are still high, but over the past few months they have stabilized a bit. Although there were some ups and downs, the trend now is flatter.


Spanish imports of cuttlefish continue to decline

Supplies of cuttlefish have been more or less stable, and the market is quiet. In Japan there has been very little movement. Japanese imports in 2012 were practically the same as in 2011, although there was a slight shift among suppliers, with a smaller amount of product being imported from Thailand and Viet Nam, and more from Morocco. On the European market, the picture was slightly different. In Italy, little movement was registered, as imports were stable at almost 25 000 tonnes. There was also very little change in the relative positions of the main suppliers. In Spain, on the contrary, another decline in imports was registered. With the exception of a minor increase in imports in 2010, Spanish cuttlefish imports have been declining for the last six years. In 2012, imports declined by 14.3%. Most of this was due to a smaller amount of product being imported by India (-38%).

European crisis affects demand for cephalopods

The European economic crisis is obviously having some effect on demand in Europe, and therefore it is expected that sales will be slower for the next few months. Squid prices have stagnated and will be weaker in the immediate future. There is uncertainty about the supply of octopus, but prices seem to be stable, and demand in Japan is slightly better. For cuttlefish the market looks slow and prices will probably remain at a relatively high level.