Overview of key markets for fish products from Russian and American Pacific fisheries as per first week of January 2011

January 14, 2011 10:51
In the beginning of January 2011 the general situation on the Russian and US grounds of spawning pollock has so far remained too vague to show any definite trends in the current year, moreover the official start of the trawl fishery in Alaska is scheduled on 20 January 2011. Therefore, the market specialists have commented only on those problems which are associated with the above mentioned fisheries, according to the overview prepared by analysts of www.megafishnet.com based on Japanese, Russian and American sources.

As for the Russian fishery in the Sea of Okhotsk, they say that its prospects, as to the roe yield as well, can be noticeably aggravated by the catch quota reduction by more than 8% to 970,000 metric tons, as well as by difficult weather and water conditions as temperatures start falling in the sea.

As for the US Bering Sea fishery, the market specialists pay attention to possible problems due to new and stricter measures aimed at limiting bycatch of Chinook salmon along with fairly dramatic changes in the age structure of pollock and even quota increase by more than 50%. Actually, 100% quota take-up is doubted as last year even with the minimum level of capture quotas the A season dragged on until April inclusive. It is also worth noticing that at the early stage the trawl pollock fishery may fall under the influence of Chinese buyers of yellowfin sole (according to some reports, the Chinese side has already placed a number of orders for the above flatfish species and is now strongly worried that due to the running pollock season the US producers will simply have no capacities to harvest flatfish therefore some US vessels will focus on flatfish through to the start of February 2011).

Pollock roe

Import of frozen pollock roe of the Russian origin to Japan and South Korea in November 2010 grew brisker quite unexpectedly, and the volumes of new shipments of the Russian raw material to those markets increased nearly to 500 tonnes and 450 tonnes correspondingly, thus exceeding the October indices by 155% and 95%. Therefore the decline of the Chinese import did not greatly influence on the general picture of the November shipments of Russian products.

Total sales to the above mentioned three main markets reached 1000 tonnes, more than 65% up on October 2010. Some market specialists thought that such a rise could be taken as a sign of fairly serious needs of the Japanese and South Korean processors in additional purchases of the Russian raw material on the threshold of the New Year sales, and that might be a result of market players confidence in successful progressing of those sales. Taking into account that as compared to the year 2009 the November import rose by more than 120% such estimate could not be neglected though the general situation on the Japanese market of ready-to-eat pollock roe was characterized as not very positive due to poor growth of sales via the system of central wholesale fish markets.

The total volume of the Russian export to Japan, South Korea and China only for the first eleven months of 2010 amounted to 32,800 tonnes, nearly 7500 tonnes or 30% up on the corresponding result of the year 2009. Thus, taking into account the import shipments in December the export rise will be even greater. As for shipments of products from the season 2010 (they were mostly represented by Okhotsk pollock roe), which began in March 2010, their total volume amounted to nearly 31,300 tonnes.

Thus, as compared to the period of March-November 2009 the Russian shipments rose by more than 35% or 8300 tonnes, and as compared to the same period of 2008 it grew nearly by 25% or 6000 tonnes. At the same time, there was a very noticeable redistribution of shipments of the Russian raw material between main directions, mostly to the benefit of the Japanese market, which managed to overcome certain problems and turned out to be ready to switch from the Alaskan to the Russian raw material. At the same time, there was a strong decrease of shipments of the Russian raw material for processing to China where processors also produced final products mostly for the Japanese market.

The volume of the Chinese seasonal import of the Russian raw material for the period from March to November 2010 failed to reach even 2500 tonnes and namely amounted to only 2400 tonnes, 25% down on the same period of 2009 and nearly 35% down on the import volume in 2008, therefore shipments decreased correspondingly by 800 tonnes and 1300 tonnes. At the same time, prices considerably declined to below 8.00 USD per kilo, 5-6% down on 2009, though in some months prices for the Chinese import were much higher than in 2009 (especially, in September, when the average CIF import price was at the level of 12.00 USD per kilo, a very high result for shipments of frozen pollock roe for processing to China).

The volume of seasonal import of the Russian raw material to South Korea as per late November 2010 still remained well below the result for 2009 and was limited to only 4500 tonnes, 17% or 900 tonnes down on the seasonal import volume as per late November 2009. On the other hand, as compared to 2008 the shipments' volume did not decline, but increased very noticeably, practically by 80% or more than 2000 tonnes. The fact that in the autumn months import shipments were developing much more actively than in 2009 (in September-November 2010 import rose nearly by 35% on 2009 and reached 1000 tonnes) hints that by March 2010 when the season of shipments of products made in 2011 takes off, the decline of import volume of products from the season of 2010 as compared to shipments of products from the season of 2009 will be not so big.

Prices for shipments of the Russian raw material to the South Korean market dramatically increased and in the second half of the year the average monthly prices were much higher than in 2009 (especially in September 2010 when the rise reached 2.50 USD per kilo with the average import price reaching the level of 10.00 USD per kilo, while in August 2010 it was even higher than in 2009, namely by more than 3.00 USD per kilo, though it amounted to ca.9.35 USD per kilo). In general, the price level for shipments of the Russian products as per the end of November 2010 was higher nearly by 10% than in 2009, but it still failed to reach the level of 8.00 USD per kilo which was registered in 2008.

Russian frozen pollock roe shipments to Japan, China and South Korea in 2009-2010




South Korea


Metric tons

Yen per kilo

Metric tons

USD per kilo

Metric tons

USD per kilo

Metric tons

Year 2009









































Year 2010

































Note: 1 - average CIF import prices; 2 - import to Japan may include roe of cod and other congeners; 3 - figures standing for import to China shall be considered as conditional because they nominally cover roe of various fish species; 4 - in 2009 seasonal shipments began from March; 5 - according to data of the customs bodies of Japan, Republic of Korea and China.

In the meantime, the Japanese import of Russian products rose both on 2009 and on 2008 due to a double blow onto positions of the US producers who had to accept a strong fall of the product quality even from the winter-spring season A and seriously reduce their production volumes. Therefore in the current year 2011 Russian producers are not forecasted to maintain a big advantage as the age structure of pollock in the east of the Bering Sea is getting normal and the catch quotas for the area have been increased practically 1.5 times.

Nevertheless, the results for the season 2010 were not very bad for the Russian producers, especially with regard to those gloomy forecasts which were made up to the start of auctions in Pusan. The Japanese buyers showed a strong interest in purchases of the Russian raw material which resulted into a rise of the Japanese import shipments of the Russian products by almost 70% or nearly 10,000 tonnes to 24,300 tonnes by the end of November 2010, nearly 30% up on the sales volume in the season of 2008 (a fairly good year both in terms of prices and volume of direct shipments of the Okhotsk pollock roe to the Japanese market).

As for seasonal shipments in 2010 prices for the Japanese market declined by ca.8-9% (the average import price for the period turned out to be slightly below 800 Yen per kilo), but that was approximately on a par with the rise of the exchange rate of Yen to USD, therefore prices for the Russian producers showed no considerable decline. In October and November 2010 market players reported about a strong monthly increase of prices, both in Yen (first to 640 Yen per kilo and then to 665 Yen per kilo), and in USD (first to 7.65 USD per kilo and then to 8.15 USD per kilo).

However, forecasts for seasonal sales of Russian products were again fairly gloomy as the quotas for the US Bering Sea fishery of spawning pollock were raised nearly by 55% and the age structure of pollock on the US grounds could be approximately on a par with that on the Russian grounds in the Sea of Okhotsk. That could give certain advantages to the US products and the situation on the Okhotsk grounds could be much more difficult than last year mostly due to weather and ice conditions. At the same time, market experts say that until both Russian and US roe pollock fisheries gather momentum, all forecasts will remain just forecasts and the market situation will be finally defined by those nuances and details which are extremely difficult to take into account at present. Prospects for auctions in Seattle and Pusan look even more difficult for forecasting (presumably, the first round of auction sales of US products after a 12-months break will be again conducted before the first large auctions of Russian products).

Snow crab opilio

On the first week of January 2010 the market players were discussing the first reports about the results of talks of the Japanese importers with leading US producers of frozen snow crab opilio on the conditions of product shipments from the season 2010-2011.

Much attention was paid to the course of the talks because their results should have showed whether the US producers railroaded their price requirements and whether the Japanese side was ready to continue active purchases of Alaskan products at prices approximately one and a half times higher than last year. Specialists commented that the general situation on the world market, record high prices for Canadian products in the second half of 2010, a strong decline of shipments of live crab in general and opilio crab in particular to Japan had already resulted into much higher prices on the Japanese market as compared to 2009.

In the end of the year prices for the Russian blast frozen opilio reached the level of 1350 Yen per kilo, while in 2009 they were mostly much below 1000 Yen per kilo, and importers' offer prices of Canadian blast frozen snow crab opilio were raised to 1450 Yen per kilo of the size L, at least 25% up on 2009. However, prices for brine frozen opilio making the basis for commodity production both in East Canada and Alaska in the second half of the year 2009 on the US market exceeded the reasonable level and showed a big gap from actual indications and capacities of most of users, moreover many of them purchased Canadian products from the season 2010 in the main phase of shipments at prices ca.25-30% down on maximum.

Evidently, serious changes in prices are inevitable and they are forecasted even in the very beginning of 2011 after the end of Christmas and New Year sales season. Anyway, many Japanese users strongly hope for that, however judging by the results of talks on the Bering Sea opilio those hopes so far remained not very true to life. Now there are some opposite fears that the Japanese purchases of Canadian opilio will have to be price higher than in 2010, also for blast and brine frozen products.

As for the results of talks, the Japanese importers agreed to make contracts with Trident Company, which is the leading producer of frozen crabs in the USA, at prices leveling at 5.40 USD per pound (CAF, Japan or China) of cooked and frozen sections of snow crab opilio of grade A in 45-pound carton. In the meantime, prices for raw frozen products were agreed at 5.50 USD per pound (ca.11.90 USD per kilo and 12.10 USD per kilo correspondingly). Thus, as for brine frozen products only, the level of purchase prices (for the Japanese side) was raised by ca.60% or 2.00 USD per pound (4.40 USD per kilo) on last year.

As for the volume of purchases, it amounted to 2000 tonnes of mostly brine frozen products, but also including raw-frozen opilio. Such products were purchased under special orders which became grounds for setting separate and slightly higher basic price.

Comments on the results of the above talks showed that the Japanese side practically did not get any price concessions from the US producers. As compared to offer prices announced in the end of last year, current contract prices turned out to be only 0.10 USD per pound lower, which against the background of a general rise of prices could not but be taken only as a nominal concession and a simple gesture aimed at saving the reputation of the importers who had to agree with such a strong price rise.

Besides, the situation in the beginning of the current year 2011 was cardinally different from the situation in early 2010. Then many specialists and market players had very big doubts that markets of crab products both in Japan and in the USA would quickly recover after the world financial crisis. Consequently, the Japanese side managed to agree on purchases of Trident products at prices below 3.50 USD per pound, an extremely low level against the background of prices for brine frozen Canadian (New Foundland) opilio at Boston fish exchange in the second half of the year.

The results of such sales on the first week of December 2010 show that prices of the Japanese purchases of Alaskan products in the first quarter of 2010 were at least 40% lower, even less prices for large sizes 2L and 3L which in the beginning of December 2010 ranged at 5.65-6.25 USD per pound or ca.12.45-13.75 USD per kilo.

Prices for Canadian products on the US market hit historical records and under such conditions it was really difficult to expect that the US producers would somehow meet the Japanese wishes of limiting the price rise to only 4.20-4.30 USD per pound (or ca.9.30 USD per kilo), which did happen in reality, though the actual readiness of the Japanese users to work with Alaskan products at such high prices in the recent years was always strongly doubted.

On the other hand, the Japanese side still had not very old experience of such operations, as in 1995 purchases of frozen snow crab opilio in Alaska were carried out at prices of 5.55-5.60 USD per pound (CAF), then the exchange rate of Yen was also not very strong. In the years 2000-2009 there were also such moments when the Japanese side had to purchase the US products at very high prices, for instance in 2004 prices leveled at 5.00 USD per pound or 11.00 USD per kilo. In the same years real demand on the Japanese market did not support such strong prices and that had an extremely negatively impact on the market conditions.

Roe herring

In the current year 2011 the general situation with the Japanese purchases of Pacific herring roe and roe herring can noticeably change as the commercial capture quotas in Canada (British Columbia) in the season 2011 have been officially increased by 50% on 2010 and 55% on the actual harvest in 2010 to 14,400 metirc tons.

After such a decision has been made the Canadian harvest of Pacific roe herring should actually leave the period of low results observed from 2007 to 2010 (when both quotas and catches leveled at about 10,000 tonnes) and approximate the results of mid-2000s (ca.20,000 tonnes). However, the process will happen against a very negative background as the general results of the New Year sales season of salted herring roe on the Japanese market turned out to be extremely weak.

According to the wholesalers operating on the markets of central areas, sales of ready-to-eat herring roe before the New Year were progressing generally weakly and by the end of the season there were even signs of a price collapse as some sellers dared radical price steps in order to get rid of product inventories remaining unsold at list prices. However, even such measures brought very limited results. In particular, despite a fall of prices for salted herring roe in Bristol Bay (Western Alaska) to less than 2000 Yen per kilo (below 25.00 USD per kilo) sales did not accelerate and sellers had to make great efforts to find buyers though many producers of ready-to-eat herring roe placed the biggest hopes exactly on sales of comparably cheap Bristol roe.

Besides, a very difficult character of the market was confirmed also by the fact that the total production volume of processed herring roe in Hokkaido as a leading regional centre and base for producers of popular labels went down practically by 10% on 2009 and descended much below the level of 4000 tonnes, however such decline of the supply did not give expected effect.

In October and November 2010 only slightly more than 300 tonnes of salted herring roe were sold on three wholesale fish markets of Tokio, nearly 20% down on the result of 2009, while on the market of Osaka the sales volume in those two pre-holiday months decreased by more than 10% to less than 250 tonnes as compared to the year 2008. At the same time, in Tokio the average sales prices rose by 5-10% on 2009, but failed to reach even 2400 Yen per kilo, while in Osaka it declined by ca.15% and approached the level of 4000 Yen per kilo, therefore the market specialists dared not attribute the price factor to the negative sales dynamics because producers and sellers could not find the ways to restore the activity of final consumption necessary for the market recovery. Such situation has been actually observed at least within the recent five or six years thus hinting about deep roots of the current problems.

In this connection the market specialists had serious concerns about prospects of the market after a considerable increase of product supply from the North American fisheries, taking into account that the catch quota increase was also forecasted for the southeast of Alaska (direct competitor for the Canadian fishery).

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