Australian Tuna Producers Take a Hit from COVID-19

The impact of the Corona Virus Pandemic in the global Tuna trade has come into focus with the release of sales and market data in Japan, the worlds largest importer and consumer of Tuna. Figures released by the Japanese Finance Ministry show that imports of the key commodity fell away by 18% in the first half of 2020 as the Government introduced a “state-of-emergency” to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Of interest and to the dissappointment of Australian producers of premium Australian Southern Bluefin, has been a drop in the wholesale price of approximatelty 8.5%, as reported in July. Even though the Japanese Government lifted restrictions from the imposed “state-of-emergency” in late May, demand and price has been slow to recover. One Restaurateur in Tokyo’s Kanda District commented that their sales are down by 60% compared to the same period last year. Japanese consumers are wary to step outside to eat and the wholesale trade is taking time to recover as a result.

Pre-pandemic, 2020 was shaping to be a boom year for the Tuna trade in Japan with the exchange rate favouring Australian exporters and the Tokyo Olympics to be a catalyst for increasing demand. The Australian East Coast Tuna Longline fleet was positioning itself to benefit from the windfall however the outbreak of COVID-19 cast a shadow on the early season optimism of producers. Increased costs to reach market, a significant reduction in available air-space, disruptions in the cool-chain impacting product quality, cancellation of the Olympics and reduced market demand have combined to deliver the lowest average price to producers of line caught fresh Southern Bluefin Tuna on record.

As the Australian East Coast Southern Bluefin season draws to a close, Fisheries Asset Brokers estimates that approximately 520 tonne (GG) of the product left through Sydney bound for Japan and smaller markets in the USA. The volume exported has been quite suprising considering the landscape in Japan, however while Japan has received the fish, the ramifications of the COVID-19 Pandemic has dictated poor financial results for producers.

The Australian Tuna industry will be glad to see 2020 in the rear-view however the outlook moving forward is uncertain. Unless a vaccine is produced or consumers increase the adoption of at-home delivery services that include the consumption of premium products such as Southern Bluefin Tuna, the Industry needs to brace for more of the same or work briskly to reduce reliance on Japan and increase demand in domestic and / or alternative exports markets. Easier said than done but a necessity nonetheless.

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