Seafood Trade

Data Highlights

International trade of seafood

8% annual growth rate (2016)

FAO, 2018

Value of seafood trade

USD 143 billion (2016)

FAO, 2018

Volume of seafood exports

60 MT (2016)

FAO, 2018

Global trade of seafood

Seafood accounts for roughly 10 percent of the traded value of global agricultural products.1 The international trade of fish and fish products has grown steadily—at an annual growth rate of 8 percent since 1976—reaching USD 143 billion in 2016.2 Approximately 35 percent of global fish production entered international trade in 2016, a proportion which is similar to recent years.3

The dashboard below provides an interactive visualization of capture fisheries and aquaculture production, exports, and imports by country and commodity.4 Trade data in the dashboard were classified using six-digit codes in the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS) to ensure consistency across commodities, given the wide variety and number of species represented in the category of seafood products. For more information about the production of the dashboard, see the methodology here.

Fig. 4.1. Seafood production, exports, and imports (by volume)

The OSMI data is available as an interactive Tableau Public dashboard. It is best viewed on large screens. Link to it here.

Aside from being the world’s largest seafood producer, China has been the largest exporter of seafood since 2002. Chinese exports of fish and fish products experienced markedly rapid gains during the 1990s and 2000s; since then, the annual growth rate has tapered to the low single digits.5 Other leading seafood exporters include Norway (primarily salmonid aquaculture as well as wild cod, herring, mackerel, and various whitefish and small pelagics) and Vietnam (driven by farmed catfish, shrimp, and trade of processed and re-exported products).6

The United States, Japan, and the European Union collectively accounted for 64 percent of the total value of seafood imports in 2016.7 Each of these markets experienced growth in fish imports during 2016 and 2017, in part due to general economic growth. While China is the largest seafood importer by volume as shown in Fig. 4.1., it is the third largest importer by value, as shown in Fig. 4.3. This relationship is partly due to China’s practice of importing raw material, processing it, and exporting value-added products.

An important trend in the global trade of seafood has been the faster growth rate in exports from developing countries, as compared to developed countries in recent decades. Between 1976 to 2000, exports from developing countries (in value terms) increased by an annual average of 9.9 percent, while the growth rate for developed countries was 7.4 percent.8 In 2016, exports from developing countries accounted for roughly 54 percent of the value and 59% of the volume of global seafood exports.9

Fig. 4.4. International trade flows of seafood (by value)

There are a variety of trends driving seafood trade among the fastest growing trade flows. For instance, farmed shrimp exported to Vietnam for processing is driving the flow between Ecuador and Vietnam. The flow between China and Thailand is driven by tuna exported to Thailand for processing. Trade from India to both Vietnam and the United States is primarily based on increased production of farmed shrimp in India, following the decline of farmed shrimp production in Thailand. The United States was the leading importer of Chilean seafood products (principally salmon, and mussels to a lesser extent), accounting for 30% of the country’s seafood exports and growing 19% in volume during the first half of 2017.10

Seafood Trade Notes

  1. Chatham House, ‘,’ 2018. Accessed November 5, 2018.
  2. FAO, ed., The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018., Rome, 2018.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Colin Bennett. “Chile’s seafood exports grew 19.6 percent in 2017.” Seafood Source. February 21, 2018. Accessed January 4, 2019.