Key trends, global context and seafood consumption – 2017 report

​​​Key trends from 2006–07 to 2016–17

  • The value of commercial fishery and aquaculture production reached $3.06 billion in 2016–17 and was 9 per cent higher in real terms compared with 2006–07. The growth in value is accounted for by higher production of aquaculture.
  • The volume of fishery and aquaculture production increased by 4 per cent between 2006–07 and 2016–17. During this period, the pattern of production changed significantly, shifting from the production of wild-catch stocks toward production of aquaculture products.
  • The volume of aquaculture products grew by 53 per cent from 2006–07 to 2016–17. The development of Australia’s aquaculture sector in the period resulted in the sector increasing its share of total production value and volume. Farmed salmonids drove most of this growth, rising by 106 per cent in this period.
  • Asia remains a major export destination for Australian fishery and aquaculture products. However, the pattern of Australian fishery and aquaculture exports has shifted towards the south-eastern China and Vietnam region. The major export product is rock lobster.
  • Australia’s apparent consumption of seafood increased, on average, at an annual rate of 0.8 per cent between 2006–07 and 2016–17, increasing 9 per cent overall in this period. Owing to faster population growth, apparent per person consumption of seafood declined over the same period, from 15 kilograms per person on an edible equivalent basis in 2006–07 to 13.9 kilograms per person in 2016–17.
  • Between 2013–14 and 2016–17 the volume of imported seafood declined by 5 per cent, largely reflecting a decline in frozen prawns and prepared or preserved fish. A significant increase in domestic supply during 2016–17 resulted in imports accounting for 66 per cent of Australia’s total apparent consumption of seafood that year.

Australia’s fisheries product trade in the global context

Apparent global per person seafood consumption (whole weight equivalent) increased from 9.0 kilograms in 1961 to an estimated 20.5 kilograms in 2017 (FAO 2018a). Meeting this increase in consumption has been rising global fisheries production. Most of the growth in supply since the 1980s has come from increased aquaculture production, reflecting relatively static wild-caught fisheries production.

Global fisheries production was 171 million tonnes in 2016, of which 91 million tonnes was from wild-caught fisheries and 80 million tonnes from aquaculture (FAO 2018b).

Fisheries products have become increasingly traded globally over recent decades. The proportion of fisheries products used for food that were traded increased from 11 per cent in 1976 to 27 per cent in 2016. Including fishmeal this increases to around 35 per cent of all fisheries production traded in 2016 (FAO 2018a). The total value of fisheries product exports increased in real terms (2016 US dollars) from US$33 billion in 1976 to $US143 billion in 2016 (FAO 2018b).

Australia’s fishery and aquaculture industry is a minor global player, producing around 0.15 per cent of global fishery and aquaculture supply by volume and around 1 per cent of world trade by value (FAO 2018b). However, the industry exports a range of high unit value fishery and aquaculture products. Australia is a leading supplier of southern bluefin tuna to Japan and live lobster and abalone products to Hong Kong, China and Vietnam (Whittle et al. 2015).

Australia’s trade in the fishery and aquaculture sectors is driven by several factors, including the proximity of Australia to the growing seafood market in Asia and Australia’s reputation as a reliable and high-quality supplier of high unit value fishery and aquaculture products. Changing population, income levels, urbanisation trends and preferences in the main export markets are also important factors. Other factors, such as trade agreements between Australia and its trading partners and the macroeconomic factors of competing exporting countries, can also contribute to Australia’s overall competitiveness in the global market. Australia’s competitiveness in the fishery and aquaculture export market is also influenced by changes in input costs (see below Fishing costs—fuel prices) and the exchange rates of Australia’s trading partners and competitors (see below Exchange rates and unit value).

Fishing costs—fuel prices

Fuel is a significant cost item for fishing businesses and can affect the international competitiveness of Australian fishing businesses. For example, in the Northern Prawn Fishery, fuel accounts for an average of around 34 per cent of total cash costs (Bath & Green 2016). The average price of fuel faced by fishing businesses has been volatile over the period 2006–07 to 2016–17, reaching the lowest point for the period in 2015–16 before increasing by 5 per cent in 2016–17.

In the domestic seafood market Australian product competes with imported product from the expanding aquaculture industries in South-East Asia, particularly aquaculture prawns from Thailand, Vietnam and China and aquaculture finfish from Vietnam. Changes in Australia’s exchange rate can make seafood products more or less affordable depending on movements in the Australian dollar.

The value of Australia’s seafood exports decreased in real terms (2016–17 dollars) between 2006–07 and 2016–17 from $1.9 billion to $1.4 billion. Most of this decline was the result of lower export value of non-edible fisheries products such as pearls.

The decline in edible fisheries products was largely the result of a decrease in export value of abalone, tuna and scallops. Between 2006–07 and 2016–17 rock lobster has made up an increasing share of Australian fisheries product export value, rising from 31 per cent in 2006–07 to 47 per cent in 2016–17. During this period the value of rock lobster exports increased from $587 million (in 2016–17 dollars) to $676 million.

Japan was the major export destination for Australian fishery and aquaculture products in the 1990s but has become less significant since around 2003–04.

Australian exports of fishery and aquaculture products to Japan declined, on average, at an annual rate of 3 per cent in quantity terms and 7 per cent in real value terms between 2006–07 and 2016–17. This decline is linked to an appreciation of the Australian dollar against the yen, a decline in per person seafood consumption in Japan since 2001 (FAO 2018c), increased Asian prawn aquaculture production displacing some exports of Australian prawns to Japan, and the redirection of Australian seafood trade toward China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

China, Hong Kong and Vietnam are the main export destinations for Australian fisheries products. Anecdotally, China receives much of its Australian fishery and aquaculture products from re-exports via Hong Kong and Vietnam. In 2016–17 the value of Australia’s fishery and aquaculture product exports was $1.44 billion.

Australia’s main export markets for fishery and aquaculture products (edible and non-edible) in value terms in 2016–17 were Vietnam ($575 million), Hong Kong ($232 million), Japan ($223 million), China ($171 million) and the United States ($53 million), together accounting for 87 per cent of total export value.


Exchange rates and unit value

Globally, Australia is a small producer and exporter of fishery and aquaculture products, and the prices Australian producers receive are generally set on world markets in foreign currencies. A depreciating Australian dollar generally results in producers receiving a higher export price in Australian dollar terms; an appreciating Australian dollar results in a lower export price.

From 2005–06 to 2012–13 the Australian dollar appreciated strongly against the US dollar (by 37 per cent) and moderately against the Japanese yen (by 5 per cent).

Depreciation of the Australian dollar against these currencies in 2008–09 (17 per cent against the US dollar and 25 per cent against the yen) increased Australian export unit prices in that year. From 2012–13 to 2016–17 the Australian dollar depreciated by 27 per cent against the US dollar and 8 per cent against the yen, putting upward pressure on export unit prices.

Australia’s consumption of seafood

Australia’s apparent consumption of seafood increased, on average, at an annual rate of 1.3 per cent between 2006–07 and 2016–17, from an estimated 313,450 tonnes in 2005–06 to 357,623 tonnes in 2016–17 (Figure 1). Between 2006–07 and 2013–14 imports of seafood increased to fill the gap between seafood consumption and local seafood supply. Imports of seafood into Australia increased by 20 per cent from 198,424 tonnes in 2006–07 to a peak of 237,511 tonnes in 2013–14.

FIGURE 1 Apparent consumption of seafood in Australia, 2006–07 to 2016–17
p Preliminary estimate.

Between 2013–14 and 2016–17 the volume of imported seafood declined by 5 per cent, largely reflecting a decline in frozen prawns and prepared or preserved fish. A significant increase in domestic supply during 2016–17 resulted in imports accounting for 63 per cent of Australia’s total apparent consumption of seafood that year (the lowest proportion since 2007–08). The increase in domestic consumption of seafood in 2016–17 was largely the result of an increase in production and a decrease in exports that year.

In Australia, apparent consumption of seafood per person (edible equivalent) decreased, on average, at an annual rate of 0.3 per cent, from 15.0 kilograms per person in 2006–07 to 14.5 kilograms in 2016–17. Apparent consumption of seafood typically ranks behind poultry, beef and veal and pig meat, but above sheep and lamb.

Between 2009–10 and 2015–16 apparent per person consumption of seafood declined by 7 per cent and household expenditure on fish and seafood declined by 2 per cent in real terms (see below, Household expenditure on seafood).

Household expenditure on seafood

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Household Expenditure Survey, Australian households spent $5.46 per week on fish and seafood in 2015–16 (ABS 2017).

Fresh fish and seafood accounted for 45 per cent of total fish and seafood expenditure followed by frozen fish and seafood (24 per cent), canned and bottled fish and seafood (23 per cent).

Between 2009–10 and 2015–16 Australian household expenditure on fish and seafood declined by 2 per cent in real terms (ABS 2011). This was largely the result of a decline in expenditure on canned and bottled fish and seafood. In contrast, expenditure on fresh fish and seafood remained largely unchanged and expenditure on frozen seafood increased by 6 per cent.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO 2018c) estimated annual Australian consumption of seafood at around 26 kilograms whole weight per person in 2013 compared with the ABARES estimate of 14.5 kilograms per person for 2016–17. The difference in estimates is mainly the result of different methods of estimating consumption (see below, Deriving apparent consumption of Australian seafood). For example, the FAO applies a consistent method of estimation for all countries and provides its estimates on a whole weight basis.

The FAO does not adjust its estimates for Australia to account for sardines used as feed in aquaculture enterprises.


Deriving apparent consumption of Australian seafood

ABARES estimates annual apparent consumption by adding the total edible quantity of seafood supplied domestically—that is, total production plus imported seafood—less exports of seafood. Apparent consumption provides an estimate of the total amount of seafood consumed in Australia assuming zero change in stocks. Apparent consumption is a measure often used to track the consumption of agricultural commodities over time.

The production quantity of Australian fishery and aquaculture products is reported in this publication on a whole weight basis, whereas trade data are reported on a processed basis. To align the units of measurement between production and trade data, production volume needs to be converted to a processed edible equivalent. Production volumes are adjusted to an edible quantity basis using species-specific conversion rates and excluding species that are known to be predominantly supplied for non-human consumption purposes, such as for aquaculture feed or bait. Imports and exports of seafood are sourced from Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) trade data and are reported as edible weight. The apparent consumption per person is calculated as the total apparent consumption divided by the total Australian population in each year.

The method applied here is consistent with that used by ABARES to estimate apparent consumption of other agricultural commodities produced in Australia. The FAO also compiles statistics on apparent consumption of seafood, applying a consistent method across all countries. FAO estimates indicate that annual consumption of seafood in Australia is around 26 kilograms per person in 2013—around 11 kilograms higher than the estimates presented here for 2013–14 (FAO 2018c). The discrepancy between FAO and ABARES estimates reflects differences in methodological approaches to estimating consumption. ABARES estimates seafood consumption on a processed edible basis, whereas the FAO provides its estimates on a whole weight basis.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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