Agriculture

Profit To Net

Tuna

With its 2,358 kilometers of coastline on the Pacific Ocean, Ecuador is well placed to take its share in the lucrative tuna fishing industry given that 70% of the world’s […]

With its 2,358 kilometers of coastline on the Pacific Ocean, Ecuador is well placed to take its share in the lucrative tuna fishing industry given that 70% of the world’s commercial tuna catch between 1950 and 2002 came from the Pacific Ocean, according to statistics from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Globefish Research Program. In fact, according to official statistics reported on The Fish Site, of the approximately 595,248 tons of tuna caught in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean in 2011, Ecuador had the largest catch followed by Mexico, with Panama, Venezuela, and Colombia lagging some way behind. And the international demand for tuna is not slowing down in any significant way, particularly with the continued popularity of sushi worldwide and the general trend toward fish products as a healthy alternative to meat. In Japan, a country that consumes approximately 80% of the world’s Bluefin tuna catch, a Pacific Bluefin was sold for a record sum of $1.78 million at a 2013 Tokyo auction. The major downside to this tuna boom, highlighted in a study released by fisheries scientists from the International Scientific Committee to Study the Tuna and Tuna-Like Species of the North Pacific Ocean in 2013, is that the Pacific Bluefin population is now 96% lower than at its un-fished level.

Ecuador is taking this issue seriously. Victoria Serrano, General Manger of Seafman, one of the major tuna processing companies based in Manta, Ecuador, told TBY, “The Chamber of Tuna Industries has developed a code of conduct… The Ecuadorean tuna industry has been respectful of the environment and complied with all regulations. We should advertise this fact globally.” And indeed in line with this policy of ecological responsibility, the government has imposed two tuna fishing bans for 2014. The first ran from July 29, 2014 for a period of approximately two months, and a second capture ban will come into force on November 18 and run through until January 2015. Ecuador’s Undersecretariat of Fisheries Resources outlining the way the bans operate said “…53 ships of the 99 that make up the tuna fleet, will benefit from this first closure… Meanwhile, the remaining 46 will stop… work in the second ban,” according to Tunaseiners.

THE EUROPEAN MARKET

The European market is of growing importance for Ecuador’s tuna industry. Negotiations have just finished on a new free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and Ecuador, although according to Agritrade the commercial terms agreed will not enter into force until 2H2016. Europe accounts for 70% of Seafman’s sales and the Ecuadorean tuna processing company expects its production capacity to increase by 10% as a result of the new FTA. Similarly, Marbelize, Ecuador’s fourth largest exporter of tuna, sends 98% of its products overseas, and its biggest export market is Europe according to General Manager, Jelisava Cuka Auad. Within that European market, there has also been significant growth in German imports of canned Ecuadorean tuna, up 53% in 2013 compared to the previous year. Ecuador is now Germany’s largest supplier of canned tuna out of the 25 countries it imports from, and the second largest exporter of tuna loin to Germany after Vietnam. Marbelize’s Jelisava Cuka Auad commented to TBY that, “Asia is our main competitor. To compete with them is a big challenge. Their prices are low.” Things are set to get tougher too with Asian exporters, such as the Philippines, lobbying hard for reduced EU taxes on their tuna products. If Ecuador cannot negotiate favorable interim tariff terms with the EU in the lead up to their FTA entering into effect in 2016, the country may find their imports become less competitive compared to Asia in the short term.

LOCAL CONSUMPTION

Local consumption of Ecuadorean tuna is surprisingly low, at approximately six to seven kilograms per capita consumption annually, compared to the Latin American average of 15 to 16 kilograms, according to the Undersecretariat of Fisheries Resources. In the case of Marbelize, domestic sales make up less than 2% of the company’s overall sales. Clearly there is more work to be done by the government to encourage local consumption for the sake of both the industry and the nation’s health, and to balance out the tuna industry’s current dependence on export markets for future growth.

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