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Tuna 2018 blog: Recap on three busy days in Bangkok

The Thai capital hosted the world's biggest tuna conference this week. Don't miss IntraFish's in-depth coverage.

Tuesday, May 29, 12.01 p.m. ICT

SE Asia WILL pay for tuna... it just takes a little imagination

The belief some in the sector hold that canned tuna doesn’t sell in certain parts of Southeast Asia because of price sensitivity, was firmly dispelled as myth by industry veteran Fatima Ferdouse this afternoon.

The general demand and import trends for seafood such as salmon, cod, shrimp, lobster etc maintain positive growth and appear uninfluenced by supposed price sensitivity, she said.

“My conclusion is that actually, the SE Asian market is not price sensitive when it comes to seafood,” Ferdouse stated.

So why aren’t they buying canned tuna?

Her conclusion? Yup, you got it. Lack of innovation. And, ironically, the need for tuna products in the higher end categories.

She used the examples of Thailand which, along with the Philippines, has very high canned tuna consumption, where Air Asia now serves two value-added tuna products onboard its flights.

Chicken of the Sea's innovations with tuna loin slices in the US market also caught Ferdouse's attention.

"We need to see things like Chicken of the Sea are doing in SE Asia," she said.

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Tuesday, May 29, 11.27 a.m. ICT

Maintaining a lucrative yellowfin market in Europe

While the EU market is of course diverse and influenced by many different cultures and traditions, there are common themes and health is a key consumption driver.

"Health is no longer about absence of illness," said Henk Brus, managing director at Netherlands-based Pacifical. "It is about preventing illness, feeling good, looking radiant."

But before you worry about marketing message you need to worry about supply, and a table of stock status (below) poses a challenge, with the fisheries making up the bulk of the EU's yellowfin supply generally over-exploited.

What Europe can do to deal with these challenges is to switch away from yellowfin and into skipjack, making suppliers less vulnerable to NGO criticism and supply disruption, said Brus.

This is already happening, with many producers now shying away from labeling their product with a certain species and just calling it "tuna", allowing them to switch between yellowfin and skipjack as supply dictates.

But this in turn, reduces sales of yellowfin, said Brus, because price difference becomes too high and there is no longer a differential.

"The industry would therefore benefit from differentiating," said Brus. This way, they will broaden opportunities rather than merging the industry together into one big commoditized lump.

But heads up catching sector: according to Brus, to maintain the EU yellowfin market, 50,000 metric tons of whole round weight yellowfin, of mostly 10 kilos upwards, will have to be made available from the Western and Central Pacific.

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Tuesday, May 29, 10.57 a.m. ICT

Tuna for breakfast

Libyans eat tuna for breakfast and in the Middle East lunch is eaten at 5pm.

This set the scene for a fascinating presentation on the Middle Eastern tuna market from Pheonix Group Director Arnab Sengupta.

What those selling tuna to the Middle East have to contend with which others don't, is the impact of political and social turmoil.

An $800 million market with Libya, Egypt and Saudi Arabia leading consumption, the region has been hugely challenged by recent socio-economic events, with market access and buying habits both disrupted.

"Libya used to have the highest tuna consumption in world," said Sengupta. "They’d have it for breakfast," but consumption is down a massive 30 percent year on year.... a pattern seen, although to a lesser extent in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

But things are looking up, with Sengupta confident that in the next six months to a year, the markets in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, at least, will stabilize. Libya is possibly a different matter.

Based on a distributor model, branding is controlled locally and shipments are rejected or accepted based purely on samples taken from imported product.

But done right and with market knowledge, there are opportunities in the region.

While lunch is the main, cooked, family meal of the day, dinner is a lighter more flexible meal often based around convenience, said Sengupta. This is where tuna could own some market share.

But once again, innovation needs to happen.

Population, urbanization, globalization has all given consumers choice.

"A few decades back, canned tuna was one of the few convenience foods you could get. But now there is so much more competition," said Sengupta.

Tuna needs an upgrade, was the basic message.

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Tuesday, May 29, 09.35 a.m. ICT

Innovate to grow your market

EU consumption of canned tuna is up 3 percent year-on-year and it presents one of the most interesting markets worldwide, according to Juan Manuel Vieites Baptista De Sousa, president of Eurothon and secretary general of Anfaco-CECOPESCA.

With consumption of 745,592 metric tons in 2017, it works out as an average 1.46 kilos per capita -- a figure led by Malta's 5.21 kilos and Spain's 3.54 kilos.

One of the key consumption drivers is health, but flavor and convenience also come into play, said Vieites Baptisa De Sousa.

Reflecting what many others have pointed out over the course of the last 24 hours, research, development and innovation is key in growing the canned tuna sector in particular.

"The industry should be automated, flexible, intelligent, social, sustainable, connected and customer oriented," said Vieites Baptisa De Sousa.

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Tuesday, May 29, 09.01 a.m. ICT

Pouch power

An encouraging picture was painted by Bumble Bee Foods' Senior VP of Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility Dave Melbourne regarding the United States shelf-stable seafood market this morning.

Most segments of shelf-stable seafood posted value increases at retail in the last year, including core canned tuna products -- albacore was up 2 percent, "light" tuna up 1 percent -- but most interest was a 17 percent increase in pouch tuna, a 15 percent increase in sardines and a 6 percent increase in ready-to-eat kits.

In terms of penetration, canned light tuna was the largest segment of all US shelf-stable tuna sold at retail in the last 52 weeks with 41 percent of all households purchasing it, followed by canned albacore at 27 percent and pouch tuna -- the smallest volume, but fastest growing category -- at 17 percent.

Traditional grocery represents the highest channel with Walmart accounting for an incredible 25 percent of all United States canned tuna sales.

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Monday, May 28, 1.15 p.m. ICT

You call us irresponsible. We call us innovative

The power struggle in the seafood supply chain was demonstrated by Anthony Kim, vice chairman of the world tuna purse seine organization in a neat little graphic (see Tweet below).

“Competition is fierce and customers have too many options they can afford to buy instead of tuna,” he said, meaning its imperative that the sector takes its eyes off the power struggle and focuses instead on creating value that competitors cannot.

This applies as much to sustainability as anything else, with today’s consumers more than aware of the issues at play.

But to create this value – both in innovations and sustainability – all stakeholders need to play their part, said Kim.

“Why don’t we get rid of the power game and instigate the value game.”

Kim gave the example of Papua New Guinea, where the fishing sector has made significant changes through catch retention, observers onboard purse seiners, shark protection, MSC certification for skipjack and FAD work.

Through our collective efforts three tuna stocks -- bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack- are recovering or rebuilding, he added, although said that work still needed to be done in other areas.

Boat owners have also added value through innovations such as onboard super freezing

“We are a developer of tuna resources as well as implementer of tuna management measures,” said Kim.

“But it sometimes feels as though boat owners are irresponsible players.

“We are not the only stakeholder in this chain. We need your help as a partner to make more value in the chain.”

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Monday, May 28, 12.38 p.m. ICT

Moving forward with FIP support

It was with tears in her eyes that Susan Jackson, president of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), announced that it was 10 years today that members of the organization met for the very first time.

And her message was positive.

We have made tremendous progress in last 10 years,” she said “and I remain encouraged that the pace of change will accelerate.

“Trends are coalescing and actions are coalescing” and in terms of bringing a more consistent voice to the industry, ISSF recently launched a new strategic plan.

“Since 2009 we have been unwavering and steadfast in our commitment to science,” said and this will continue, with the same objectives for the new strategy, said Jackson.

What has changed is that ISSF is “articulating for the first time” that it is supporting FIPs across all of its modules.

What does that mean? It means that in order for FIPs to be successful, and ISSF to be successful and tuna fisheries to become fully certified, the different segments must work together. “To this end ISSF will provide science based guidance, tools, advocacy support as a stakeholder in FIPs that seek to achieve MSC certification,” she said.

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Monday, May 28, 12.25 p.m. ICT

Don't underestimate the value of trade

If ever you were uncertain seafood was in demand, you need only to look at FAO's map of seafood trade, flashed up before delegates by Audun Lem, deputy director, policy and economics division, at this morning's session.

And this trade is of innate value to the sector, accounting for more than 50 percent of industry value, equal to the value of trade for the pork. beef and poultry sectors put together.

After a drop in 2016, the international trade of seafood increased in 2017 and 2018 and is expected to continue its climb in 2019 and 2020 -- both in value and volume.

A part of this, tuna production has increased a lot over the last few decades, accounting for 3 percent of global seafood supply, but 6 percent of global seafood capture.

But stocks are under pressure and it wouldn’t be good for sector for this to increase further, said Lem.

Indonesia is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack in terms of production, churning out over 900,000 metric tons in 2016, accounting for a whopping 17 percent of world production.

Behind it in close succession are Japan, the Philippines, Ecuador and Korea.

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Monday, May 28, 12.18 p.m. ICT

Beware of getting old

Commoditization and perception of tuna products as an “old-fashioned category” are the two key threats to the global tuna industry according to Bolton Food Sustainable Development Director Luciano Pirovano.

And this is why the sector must innovate, both in terms of products and in terms of traceability and supply chain management.

The huge trend towards urbanization is a motivator for the category, according to Pirovano, who quoted figures saying that by 2050, seven out of 10 people will live in big cities.

“If you live in big cities, you need convenient food with long shelf life -- canned fish is perfect,” he said.

Pirovano also believes more technology must be employed to help tackle burning issues such as IUU, bycatch, monitoring, etc.

Bolton is committed to sourcing 100 percent of its tuna from MSC certified fisheries by 2024 and is “already at a very good stage for this.”

It has been working with WWF and is fully supportive of FIPs as a step towards MSC certification, he said.

He also stated that more must be done to manage FADs – already a key theme of this conference: “If we do not manage this gear it is a point of weakness for our industry and for stakeholders.”

He went on to say the industry must consider other fishing methods, although conceded there is currently no “perfect” fishing method.

Human rights also came high on the agenda as a new but “hot” topic.

“As an industry we need third party credible efforts to develop labor and social standards on a global scale,” he said. “We also need to think about the shared value along the supply chain. This is not just about human rights, but about ensuring fairness to the many developing countries in the supply chain.”

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Monday, May 28, 11.59 a.m. ICT

Global tuna challenges call for cooperation

Thailand is obviously a key player in the international tuna industry.

In 2016, the country produced 5.6 million metric tons of canned tuna with a value of $2 billion, accounting for as much as 37 percent of tuna exports worldwide.

The country is also the biggest importer of frozen tuna accounting for 7.1 million metric tons, or 40 percent of tuna imports, with Taiwan, PNG, Korea, the United States, Kiribati and the Maldives the key suppliers.

But, even for such a tuna superpower, the sector is feeling several challenges in terms of meeting international standards and enhancing the value chain.

“All of us have to work together in order to ensure sustainability of the industry in the future,” emphasized a spokesperson for Grisada Boonrach, minister of agriculture and cooperatives in Thailand, who was absent from the event.

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Monday, May 28, 10.56 a.m. ICT

Circling the differences

Patrick Basa, MP, minister of fisheries and marine resources for Papua New Guinea, once again affirmed the need for sustainability in his presentation to the Tuna 2018 delegates.

The Western and Central Pacific is the only ocean that can boast that all four tropical tuna stocks are stable and work in that region should be credited for this transformation, said Basa.

While it is well known that Thailand, Ecuador, Spain and the Philippines are the biggest tuna exporters in the world and the EU, United States, Japan and Australia the biggest importers, it is also important to know which countries are catching this product, said Basa.

"This is the most important information."

Most is currently caught in the West and Central Pacific by countries such as PNG, Kirabati, Micronesia and this gives a better clue to how and why stocks are supply chains are operating the way they do.

The PNG government, said Basa, has made substantial investments in fisheries management systems including catch management schemes and this has made a notable difference to stocks.

"We will continue to work with the six major tuna processors here to further improve the sector," he said.

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Monday, May 28, 10.17 a.m. ICT

Value over volume

"It is a race against time that demands us to be aware that the resources of the sea, although plentiful, are not infinite," said Ana Katsula Drouet Salcedo, representing Ecuador's tuna sector and the launch of the industry's recent brand Tuna from Ecuador.

The first link in Ecuador's tuna chain is ensuring the sustainability of the stock and just last week Ecuador delivered its report to the EU on its plans for fighting IUU fishing.

But at both ends of the scale there remain challenges, said Katsula, in both the public and private sector.

"It is fundamental that we supply the market with first class product," she said.

"We have to shift the producers to income generated by value rather than income generated by volume."

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Monday, May 28, 09.57 a.m. ICT

Time to tackle IUU once and for all

Experience has shown that through effective communications and advanced technology, "it is possible to reverse trends in overfishing," said Jong Jin Kim, FAO's deputy regional representative for Asia and the Pacific.

"The international community has awakened to the challenges," he said, announcing that next Tuesday, June 5 has been nominated as the international day for fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

There are now powerful instruments to rid the industry of this issue, he said, adding the issue had been "neglected for far too long".

Kim also called for the removal of harmful subsidies and for governments and the industry to assist smaller nations in access to international markets.

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Monday, May 28, 09.40 a.m. ICT

In defense of FADs?

The statement just made by Conference Chair Transform Aqorau that the media has exaggerated the impact of fish aggregating devices (FADs), has not gone down well in the Twittersphere.

"There is this pervasive view that FADS are bad for fishing and the environment. This is not necessarily true," he said, saying that media stories did not necessarily give the full picture and were written to "induce emotion".

"But it cannot be ignored by the industry," he continued, saying that PNA's investment in FAD tracking and monitoring must be recognized.

"There is such a thing as good FAD management and registration of FADs. However, there has to be better cooperation between the industry and operators to make sure they are properly used."

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Monday, May 28, 09.35 a.m. ICT

Market access demands clean supply chains -- the world is watching

Dr Transform Aqorau, conference chair and veteran of the Pacific island tuna industry, is from the Solomon Islands and grew up in a world of tuna canneries.

To this end he understands the challenges the industry faces, and the importance of the sustainability of the sector for the communities that rely on it for a living.

While systems can be developed, the catching sector remains difficult to document because of the vastness of coastal zones, the complexity of the industry and largely because these are "simple fishers looking to earn a living through what they catch," he said.

It is also important that the industry is not managed through anecdotal evidence, but through accurate reporting, that cannot be left to governments alone: The industry has a "big role to play" through certification, investments in technology and targeting sustainable development goals.

After all, market access is being driven by consumer demand for clean supply chains.

"Those who evade high standards and don't respect human rights, should not have their products sold. In fact, they should not be allowed to fish at all," said Aqorau.

"The good guys cannot be undermined by those who flout the system. The world is watching you and many of the solutions are within your grasp."

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Monday, May 28, 09.17 a.m. ICT

Let the show begin...

Shirlene Maria Anthonysamy, acting director of Infofish, kicked off the event.

This is the third decade of this event and its drawn delegates from more than 60 countries.

“Since we last met in 2016, much has taken place in the industry,” she said.

With reference to this, Anthonysamy said this year's conference will continue to "shine the spotlight on sustainability", including IUU, blockchain, gender issues and impacts of climate change.

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Monday, May 28, 08.46 a.m. ICT

Get ahead of the game

Can't wait for our coverage to start? Then do your homework and check out our archive stories on our tuna and tuna trouble topic pages. You can also follow us on Twitter @intrafish when the event kicks off.

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Monday, May 28, 08.20 a.m. ICT

Welcome to Bangkok

It's just past 8am, already 33 degrees Celsius and the grand ballroom at Bangkok's landmark Shangri-La hotel is slowly filling up with the top players from the world's leading tuna producing and buying nations.

IntraFish will be here blogging for the whole event, so keep checking back for updates.

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