Final Report - 2010/222 - A Study Of The Composition, Value And Utilisation Of Imported Seafood In Australia
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Imports have been reported as providing about 60 to 75% of current seafood supply in Australia, the importance varying according to the source. But reliable information on the make-up of much of this seafood has not been available, because of, inter alia, the limited detail and quantity of data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics or the Australian Fisheries Statistics annual report prepared the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics and Sciences (ABARES).
Moreover some statistics on very important species/products such as basa are not collated by Australian Customs because the species do not have an international tariff classification code number. This lack of national statistical data has been responsible for much of the confusion and uncertainty about the role basa and barramundi imports play in Australia.
There is no reliable detailed picture of the types of edible imports, the nature of their distribution chain in Australia, nor their contribution to trade and consumption
Principal Investigator: Nick Ruello
Key Words: Imported seafood, prawns, barramundi, basa, import competition, supermarket seafood sales, Country of origin labelling
This study was undertaken to provide much needed information on the composition, value and utilisation of imported seafood in Australian trade to enable informed discussion about specific volumes, values and the interaction between overseas and domestic produce.
Detailed analysis of official statistics, various reports, trade information gathered from industry and from personal observations indicates that:
- The 193,000 tonnes of seafood imported in 2008/9 had an estimated final sales value of $4.5 billion, 3.5 times the import cost of $1.3 billion.
- Almost all is used by the retail and the food service sector with little volume utilised for food manufacturing; utilisation as bait is negligible.
- These imported goods provided 72% of the seafood flesh consumed in Australia and more than two thirds of the seafood industry’s postharvest sector employment.
- Imported seafood mostly generates a higher multiplier from the import cost to the final sale value than Australian produce because the sellers typically constrain selling prices and profit margins on the (costlier) domestic goods to make them more affordable for consumers.
- The overall quality, packing, size grading and branding of imports is good, so much so that the prices of imports are increasingly as high as or surpassing those of the equivalent Australian product.
- CSIRO and other authoritative reviews indicate that imported seafood does not pose any greater food safety risk than locally produced food.
The days of “cheap inferior Asian imports” are gone.
Canned fish, frozen fillets, frozen whole and processed prawns and various frozen squid products are the major imported items, in that order. The four most important sources are Thailand, New Zealand, Vietnam and China. Thailand is a major source of canned tuna, frozen prawns and various highly transformed prawn products. New Zealand is the predominant source of fresh and frozen fish and fillets, and green mussel products. Vietnam is the supplier of basa fillet and a large volume of highly processed prawns. China is also a major prawn supplier and the largest overseas source of squid.
Basa fillet is the most commonly and widely eaten import and its low cost underpins the viability of many fish and chips outlets and the seafood related profitability in low price eateries and catering operations. Vannamei prawns and basa have gained remarkable acceptance globally because they provide enjoyable nutritious seafood, particularly for low budget shoppers; they form the cornerstones of Australian supermarket “Deli” seafood sections today.
The market interaction between imports and domestic seafood is typically complex and changing, often because of changes in the value of the A$. The strongest direct price competition between imports and the equivalent domestic produce noted was that for frozen cooked farmed black tiger prawns, New Zealand fresh fish generally and Asian fresh barramundi fillets.
The very large fillet size and the heavy unbranded packs of wild Australian barramundi fillets are market impediments that coupled with a higher price make them totally different to the branded multi size-grade imports with various packaging options. This indirect competition between domestic and imported barramundi is less than the competition from farmed salmon.
Basa fillet is operating in a low price market segment on its own with no white skinless boneless fillet near its price and so it is providing indirect competition to Australian and to other imported fish.
Some imports such as scallops and squid are complementary to equivalent Australian goods because they fill supply gaps in the off season and particularly in “bad years”; overseas scallops help scallops “stay on the menu” and imports provide raw material for squid processors in Australia.
Many exotic species such as Asian whitefish and Chilean king crab (legs) add diversity to the seafood menu and increase sales revenue for businesses without any noticeable impact on Australian producers.
Seafood retailers compete for a share of the public’s discretionary spending dollar against other goods and services. But much of the Australian seafood industry has invested little in making seafood more enjoyable and “top of mind” and in strengthening demand.
Country of origin labelling differentiates imports from local produce but it is not a panacea for the producers’ costs-price squeeze – it has not generated lasting price rises — action plans addressing specific problems are needed.
For the prawn sector, the fundamental problem has been a paucity of innovation and concerted action to increase demand while aggregate supply kept growing.
Australian seafood producers have more to gain by looking on importers as allies rather than adversaries and collaborating in a mutually beneficial quest to raise demand for the seafood category overall and gain a greater share of the consumer dollar regardless of the foods’ origin.
The type and quality of statistics available gratis from the Australian Bureau of Statistics or the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics and Sciences were largely found to be reliable but the product categories are typically too broad for specific product analysis. More detailed or disaggregated data can be ordered from the ABS but few businesses make use of this consulting service because it is considered costly.
Several recommendations are made for removing anomalies and improving the collation and usefulness of official Australian import statistics.
The NZ Seafood Industry Council, the Thai Frozen Food Association and the Vietnamese Association Of Seafood Exporters And Producers’ websites have all been identified as sources of good quality seafood trade data.