Prices for tuna imported into the UK are rocketing, as the European Union's ban on Sri Lankan fisheries produce nears a month of enforcement, the Undercurrent News reported.
The ban is mainly impacting imports of fresh and chilled yellowfin tuna from Sri Lanka, largely for the foodservice sector, with total imports to the EU valued at €74 million. It has left importers in the UK, and to a lesser extent France – the two main European markets – to turn to other supplies, and it is on these that prices are up.
“Prices are up a great deal,” Laky Zervudachi, director of sustainability and epicurean with Direct Seafoods, told Undercurrent News. “Supplies from the Maldives and southern India are okay at the moment, but limited, hence the price pressure.”
Since the ban, price quotes to Direct for Indian tuna have risen around 20%, and on Maldives tuna, 60%, he said.
This puts the latter, as a ball-park figure, cost price, at between £18 and £20 per kilogram.
“It's serious. I'm not sure people will be able to keep tuna on their menus at that price,” he said.
Tuna species director for New England Seafood International, David Jones, estimated prices for tuna out of the Maldives had seen an increase of over 30%, though identified a 60% increase as being at the the higher end of quotes.
The importer and supplier expects Maldives tuna prices to settle in the medium term at more than 20% higher than prices seen at the start of 2015.
Comptoirs Oceaniques, considered to be France’s largest importer of tuna from Sri Lanka, has also seen a tough market situation.
“Prices have gone up by more than 10%; closer to 20%,” said Alain Bailly, managing director of the French firm. “The supply of fresh tuna, relying on not enough sources, is getting very chaotic now.”
People are looking for alternative supplies, and playing things close to their chests, said Zervudachi. “We've been a bit lucky with India because an existing relationship has meant our supplier isn't abusing the situation.”
Other importers will likely continue to source from existing supply chain, other than Sri Lanka, for the short to medium term, as ensuring new suppliers meet food safety and sustainability standards could be a drawn-out process.
He anticipates trouble in a few months, as the Indian Ocean tends to run into a seasonal monsoon period during Europe's summer.
“The boats in the Maldives are mainly small, catching with pole and line – they'll be restricted by the weather.”
“The Indian fishery is newer, we know less about it, but I imagine they'll have similar issues,” he said.
For these reasons Direct is looking for other viable pole and line fisheries. Indonesia might have presented an option, but now is a tricky time as teh government there cracks down hard on illegal fishing, meaning a restructure for all vessels and their crews, said Zervudachi.
There is some 'superfrozen' tuna coming into the UK in small quantities – partly through Direct – mainly going to supermarkets or sushi restaurants, he said.
“Only the best tuna is used for that; and on the best grades you compete with Japan, which is willing to pay for top quality.”