Australia’s consumption of seafood

Figure 1
Source: ABARES

Australia’s apparent consumption of seafood increased, on average, at an annual rate of 1.9% between 1998–99 and 2017–18, from an estimated 238,968 tonnes in 1998–99 to 341,272 tonnes in 2017–18 (Figure 23). Per person apparent consumption of seafood decreased slightly between 2007–08 and 2017–18 (trending down from 14.7 kilograms per person in 2007–08 to 13.7 kilograms per person in 2017–18).

Figure 23 Apparent consumption of seafood in Australia, 2003–04 to 2017–18
Figure 1
Source: ABARES

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Australian seafood consumption ranks behind beef, chicken and pork but ahead of lamb and sheep meat

Apparent consumption of seafood typically ranks behind poultry, beef and veal and pig meat but ahead of sheep and lamb (Figure 24 ). In terms of expenditure, Australian households spent $5.46 per week on fish and seafood in 2015–16 compared with $27.0 per week for meat, not including fish and seafood (ABS 2017). See Box 4 for further information on Australian household expenditure on fish and seafood.

Figure 24 Change in consumption of meat in Australia, 2006–07 and 2016–17
Figure 1
Source: ABARES

It is unclear why per capita seafood consumption is trending downwards in Australia. However, changes in the consumption of other meat products may provide insights into what has been driving this trend. Total meat consumption in Australia (including seafood) has remained relatively stable for the 10 years to 2016–17. However, there have been divergent trends in the type of meat consumed. For example, beef consumption has declined significantly, while poultry consumption has continued to grow. The reasons for this are varied but are thought to include changes in consumer preferences (such as consumers seeking healthier food options) and relative price (Taylor & Butt 2017). Taylor and Butt (2017) suggest that the lower relative price of poultry (and, to lesser extent, pork) compared with beef is a major reason why poultry consumption has increased so markedly. Figure 25 shows that seafood has become relatively expensive compared with poultry but less expensive relative to beef and veal.

Figure 25 Retail meat and seafood prices in Australia, September 1998 to June 2018
Figure 1
September 1998 = 100. Prices are taken as the weighted average of eight capital cities. Fish and other seafood defined as fresh, chilled or frozen fish and seafood (Crustaceans and other shellfish); dried, smoked or salted fish and seafood. Adapted from Taylor & Butt 2017.

One problem with interpreting the seafood price index is that the index covers a multitude of fisheries products. For example, Prawns, Scallops and Salmonids would all be components of the index and average movements in the price may obscure price trends in major species groups. For example, apparent consumption of Salmonids in Australia has increased, while consumption of other Finfish products has declined. It may be the case that higher priced seafood products may compete with higher unit value meat products (such as beef) whereas cheaper (often imported) products may compete with cheaper protein alternatives such as poultry (DIIS 2017).

Australian household expenditure on seafood

According to the ABS 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% of total fish and seafood expenditure, followed by frozen fish and seafood expenditure (24%) and canned and bottled fish and seafood expenditure (23%). The remainder is accounted for by items which are classified as ‘not further defined’.

Between 2009–10 and 2015–16 Australian household expenditure on fish and seafood declined by 2% in real terms (ABS 2017). 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 4%. 

Role of imports in Australian seafood consumption

Seafood imports play an important role in Australian seafood consumption and are required to fill the gap between seafood consumption and local seafood supply. Between 1998–99 and 2013–14 seafood imports increased from 132,396 tonnes to peak at 237,511 tonnes. During this period the proportion of seafood accounted for by imports (by volume) increased from 55% to 69%, while domestic seafood supply remained broadly steady at around 112,000 tonnes.

Between 2013–14 and 2017–18 the volume of imported seafood generally declined, largely reflecting a decline in volume of frozen Prawns and prepared or preserved fish (see Fisheries and aquaculture product imports  for more information on Australia’s seafood imports). An increase in domestic supply during this period resulted in the share of imports in Australia’s apparent seafood consumption decreasing from 69% in 2013–14 to 65% in 2017–18 (the lowest share since 2007–08).

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) (FAO 2019a) estimated annual Australian consumption of seafood at around 26 kilograms per person in 2016 compared with the ABARES estimate of 13.5 kilograms per person for 2015–16. The difference in estimates is mainly the result of different methods of estimating consumption (for more information, see Calculating apparent seafood consumption). For example, the FAO applies a consistent method of estimation for all countries and provides its estimates on a live weight basis.

Table 4 Apparent consumption of seafood, Australia, 1998–99 to 2017–18

Apparent consumption (total) Apparent consumption (per person) Percentage of consumption from imports
(tonnes) (kg per person) (%)
1998–99 238,968 12.7 55.4
1999–2000 240,150 12.6 57.9
2000–01 247,194 12.8 58.1
2001–02 247,797 12.7 58.9
2002–03 273,533 13.9 60.1
2003–04 308,691 15.5 60.8
2004–05 302,105 15.0 61.6
2005–06 296,784 14.5 63.5
2006–07 311,595 15.0 63.7
2007–08 312,991 14.7 63.3
2008–09 303,470 14.0 63.7
2009–10 322,735 14.6 64.3
2010–11 324,077 14.5 65.3
2011–12 324,506 14.3 66.0
2012–13 345,383 14.9 66.1
2013–14 346,311 14.8 68.6
2014–15 342,096 14.4 66.5
2015–16 332,277 13.7 67.0
2016–17 340,864 13.9 66.4
2017–18 341,272 13.7 64.9

Source: ABARES

Surveys of Australian seafood consumers

Recent consumer research Unpacking the consumer seafood experience sheds light on recent trends among Australian seafood consumers (Intuitive Solutions 2019). The survey sampled 2,002 adult grocery buyers in 2019 and is an update on similar research from 2016. According to the results of the survey, 78% of Australians had consumed seafood in the previous 12 months, largely unchanged from 77% in 2016. The results of the survey showed these seafood consumers fall into one of three categories: frequent eaters, regular eaters and infrequent eaters. The survey results showed that frequent eaters (those that consume seafood once a week or more) accounting for only 33% of consumers but accounted for 77% of consumption. Price is important to consumers but was found not to be the key driver of seafood consumption. Consumers reported that freshness and food safety are more important than price but that price was more important than quality (whether the fish is fresh or has been frozen) and presentation. The 2019 findings reiterated that uncertainty about choosing, preparing and cooking seafood is a barrier to seafood consumption.


Last reviewed: 21 October 2020
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