Of the more than 140 million tonnes of fish production every year, nearly 40% is from Aquaculture (and rising) and the balance from capture fisheries. Nearly 37% of world fish production is traded internationally, worth in excess of US$100 billion.

The European Union is the largest market for fish worldwide, absorbing 40% of world imports by value, and the largest supplier is China, with about 15% of total exports (and rising), though China also imports a significant amount of fish and fisheries products.

Click here for a useful table of exports and imports (to 2008). This shows the relative importance of the importing and exporting countries, and has a summary table.

Fish as a commodity is widely traded worldwide but there are no clearing houses or futures markets, like for grains or other agricultural commodities like cotton or pig bellies. Markets tend to be fragmented with many buyers and many sellers, with many exporters exporting to the main markets of USA and Europe, where there are many importers. There are however some dominant companies that are also vertically integrated, catching fish, producing aquaculture products and marketing added value products through large customers such as supermarket chains.

Developing countries are becoming more and more important in the international fish trade, as the opportunities for exports to the USA and EU have become more apparent with increasing prices. The heterogeneous nature of this market can be confusing for entrants, since the obvious sources of information are often not readily available. Many pitfalls await the unwary.

There are also considerable problem in the fish trade: the continuing poor management of wild capture fisheries is leading to declines in catches of some of the major species traded, the is continued Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing in many of the worlds fishing areas, and serious environmental problems surrounding intensive aquaculture.

Additionally the importing countries & blocs have established health and quality regulations, ensuring that only products which reach a minimum standard of quality and are free of contaminants can be imported. The USA has implemented HACCP and require that exporting countries can show adherence while the EU standards are perhaps the most rigorous.

Reaching the necessary levels of hygiene and monitoring for traceability is a holy grail that is always expensive to achieve and for producers in developing countries, finding the technical know-how or the financial resources required to meet such standards can pose insurmountable challenges.

For the EU every establishment and vessel has to be approved by the Competent authority within the exporting country.

It is important to note that fish is, under the WTO , classified as an industrial product, not an agricultural commodity. This means that any liberalisation of trade under WTO rules will be of great benefit to the fish trade.

For more information, please contact FoodWorks Senior Fishery Specialist, Robert Lindley on