Limited shelf life limits international trade in bivalves

Over 14 million tonnes of bivalves are produced by aquaculture every year. However, the share of bivalves entering international trade is relatively small, as most of the production is consumed within the production country. This is especially true for the top world producer, China, which produces over 80 percent of the world's bivalves, but consumes almost all of this production domestically. The amounts that do enter into international trade include about 200 000 tonnes of mussels per year, 180 000 tonnes of clams, 150 000 tonnes of scallops, and 50 000 tonnes of oysters. These figures demonstrate that less than 5 percent of world bivalve production enters international trade, one of the lowest proportions in the whole seafood trade. This is due to the very nature of bivalves, which are highly perishable and potentially risky for human health if not properly handled.


EU an important player in the bivalve trade

In the EU mussels are generally grown on lines in the south and on the sea bed in the north. Here a grower checks mussels in the UK.


The EU is one of the main markets for bivalves responsible for one-third of the total bivalve trade. There is a significant share of intra-EU trade, for instance from Spain, UK and the Netherlands to the French market, while France exports huge quantities of oysters to neighbouring EU countries. There are only 13 non-EU countries authorized to send live bivalves to the EU market, which stresses the strict sanitary controls on this type of seafood.

The French market is very representative of the whole European market for bivalves as demand in this country is trend setting for the entire EU trade of bivalves. France is both an important producer of bivalves, especially for oysters, as well as a significant importer and consumer of bivalves from EU and non-EU countries. France also sets the trend in terms of bivalve prices of bivalves in the EU market.


Only a small fraction of mussel production enters international markets

Total world production of cultured mussels is 2 million tonnes, with China producing about half of this volume. Other important producing countries are Chile and Spain, which produce about 230 000 tonnes each. 10 percent of the world mussel production enters international trade. In 2016, the performance of the Chilean mussel industry was impacted by red tide. Indeed, in the first six months of the year, Chilean mussel exports totalled only 34 500 tonnes, 7 000 tonnes less than in 2014. Spain and the USA are generally the main markets for Chilean mussels, and both markets contracted in the first months of 2016.

The EU production of mussels is divided between rope culture and bottom culture. The northern countries, especially the Netherlands, concentrate on the latter, while Spain and Italy are mainly culturing mussels on ropes. In Spain, culturing mussels is a small-scale activity in Galicia, which in the past supplied the local canning industry. In recent years, frozen mussels from Chile were instead replacing the domestic Spanish mussels. This created quite some uproar in the Spanish mussel industry and forced several small-scale producers out off business. At present, the remaining producers have found an eager market in France, especially during the off season of the French bouchot mussel.


Oysters in the US experience a surge in popularity

Total annual production of cultured oysters is 5.1 million tonnes, with China again as the main producer accounting for more than 80% of the supply. Similar to mussels, trade in oysters is relatively limited to about 60 000 tonnes per year.

In the USA, oyster production is the most significant in value of the bivalves produced by aquaculture, valued at over US$150 million. Oyster farming takes place in the Pacific coast of the USA as well as in the northeast, southeast and Gulf of Mexico. Total production of cultured oysters in the USA was 125 000 tonnes in 2014.

In the 1990s, the wild oyster beds on the US East Coast were severely impacted by outbreaks of the MSX parasite. Since then, the emergence of new breeds of disease-resistance oysters has led to a revival of small-scale oyster farming. Farmers have focused on selling oysters to the raw market, due to the higher profitability. Some small-scale farmers sell directly to high-end restaurants, where oysters are shucked by hand and served on the half-shell. This resurgence in small-scale growers has been fueled by a growing number of American consumers interested in eating local and high-quality seafood, which has also led to the popularity of oyster bars in urban areas. In the state of Maine in the northeast USA, raw oysters abound on local restaurants menu, with some restaurants serving more than eight local varieties. Although domestic production is the most significant provider for consumption, the USA is among the main importers of oysters. In the first six months of 2016, about 5 000 tonnes of oysters were imported, in line with imports during previous years.

In the EU, France, Spain and Italy are the main importers of oysters, while France is among the top exporting countries as well.


Trade in clams and scallops on even keel

Overall the clam and scallop trade remain stable. For the first half of 2016, scallops imports into the EU were 21 500 tonnes, which is on par with the same time period in 2015. France is the main importer of scallops, but imports contracted sharply from 8 600 tonnes in the first half of 2015 to 6 200 tonnes in the corresponding period of 2016. This sharp decline was exclusively due to fewer arrivals from Peru, where the scallop producing industry, like many others in the fishery sector, was impacted by El Niño.

Japan and the Republic of Korea are the main importers of clams in the world, with about 60 000 tonnes imported annually from each. The first half of 2016 saw a 13 percent decline in Republic of Korea's imports, while Japan's imports were about stable. Both countries thus reported 30 000 tonnes of imports during the first half of the year. China is the main supplier of clams to both markets supplying more than 90 percent.

FAO GLOBEFISH. The report analyses the market situation over the period January-October 2016