Key trends, global context and seafood consumption

Australia’s fishery and aquaculture industry: key trends from 2005–06 to 2015–16

  • The value of commercial fishery and aquaculture production declined by 10 per cent in real terms between 2005–06 and 2010–11 but then increased by 21 per cent to reach $3.03 billion (in 2015–16 dollars) in 2015–16.
  • The fall in production value between 2005–06 and 2010–11 is largely attributed to a decline in the value of wild-catch production, which was 22 per cent below the level achieved in 2005–06 in real terms. Driving the fall in wild-catch production value in this period was the sharply higher value of the Australian dollar, which negatively affected the beach price received for exported wild-catch product. From 2011–12 to 2015–16 the value of wild-caught production increased by 24 per cent to $1.75 billion.
  • The volume of fishery and aquaculture production increased by 8 per cent between 2005–06 and 2015–16. During this period, the pattern of production changed significantly, with a shift from the production of wild-catch stocks (down 22,681 tonnes) toward production of aquaculture products (up 42,394 tonnes).
  • The volume of farmed aquaculture products grew at an average annual rate of 6 per cent from 2005–06 to reach 97,046 tonnes in 2015–16. The development of Australia’s aquaculture sector in the period 2005–06 to 2015–16 has resulted in the sector increasing its share of total production value and volume. Aquaculture’s share of total fishery and aquaculture production value increased from 27 per cent in 2005–06 to 43 per cent in 2015–16. Farmed salmonids drove most of this growth, rising by 168 per cent (up 35,335 tonnes) in this period.
  • Japan remained a major export destination for Australian fishery and aquaculture products. However, exports of Australia’s fishery and aquaculture products to Japan have declined and the pattern of Australian fishery and aquaculture exports has shifted towards the Hong Kong, China and Vietnam region, with the major export product being rock lobster.
  • Australia became a net importer of fishery and aquaculture products in 2007–08 (with respect to value).
  • Australia’s apparent consumption of seafood increased, on average, at an annual rate of 1 per cent between 2005–06 and 2015–16, from 298,968 tonnes to 333,321 tonnes. Apparent per person consumption of seafood was 13.8 kilograms per person on an edible equivalent basis in 2015–16.
  • Domestic seafood supply remained steady between 2005–06 and 2015–16. Imports of seafood increased to fill the gap between consumption and available domestic supply, growing, on average, at an annual rate of 2 per cent between 2005–06 and 2015–16. In 2015–16, imports (222,778 tonnes) accounted for an estimated 67 per cent of Australia’s total apparent seafood consumption, up from 66 per cent in 2014–15.

Australia’s fishery and aquaculture trade in the global context

Apparent global per-person seafood consumption (whole weight equivalent) increased from 9.9 kilograms in the 1960s to 20.1 kilograms in 2014 (FAO 2016).

Meeting this increase in consumption has been rising global fisheries production, which grew at an average annual rate of 3.2 per cent over this period, reaching 167.2 million tonnes by 2014 (FAO 2016). Most of the growth in supply has come from increased aquaculture production, predominantly from the Asian region.

Aquaculture accounted for around 50 per cent of global fisheries production in 2014, up from 7 per cent in 1980. The Asian region accounts for 88 per cent of world edible aquaculture production, with China being the largest single aquaculture producer.
Australia’s fishery and aquaculture industry is a minor global player, producing less than 0.16 per cent of global fishery and aquaculture supply. However, the industry also exports a range of high unit value fishery and aquaculture products. Australia is a leading supplier of southern bluefin tuna to Japan and live lobster and abalone products to Hong Kong, China and Vietnam (Whittle et al. 2015).

Australian fishery and aquaculture exports are dominated by high unit value products such as rock lobster, tuna and abalone. Imports of fishery and aquaculture products largely consist of lower unit value products such as frozen and canned fish and frozen prawns.

Australia’s trade in the fishery and aquaculture sectors is driven by several factors, including the proximity of Australia to the growing seafood market in Asia and Australia’s reputation as a reliable and high-quality supplier of high unit value fishery and aquaculture products. Changing population, income levels, urbanisation trends and preferences in the main export markets are also important factors. Other factors, such as trade agreements between Australia and its trading partners and the macroeconomic factors of competing exporting countries, can also contribute to Australia’s overall competitiveness in the global market. In the domestic seafood market Australia product competes with imported product from the expanding aquaculture industries in South-East Asia, particularly aquaculture prawns from Thailand and aquaculture finfish (basa) from China.

The real export value and volume of Australia’s seafood exports decreased between 2005–06 and 2012–13 and then increased between 2012–13 and 2015–16—with a noticeable rise (43 per cent) in volume between 2014–15 and 2015–16 (Figure 1).
Underpinning the decline from 2005–06 to 2012–13 was the lower export volumes of prawns (down 5,435 tonnes), rock lobster (down 5,358 tonnes) and crab (down 2,119 tonnes).

All values in this report are nominal Australian dollars (AUD), unless stated otherwise.

China, Hong Kong and Vietnam are the main export destinations for Australian fisheries products. Japan is a major export destination for Australian fishery and aquaculture products but has become less significant since around 2003–04.

Anecdotally, China receives much of its Australian fishery and aquaculture products from re-exports via Hong Kong and Vietnam. In 2015–16, the real value of Australia’s fishery and aquaculture product exports was $1.54 billion. In that same year, Australia’s main export markets for fishery and aquaculture products (edible and non-edible), in value terms, were Vietnam ($682 million), Hong Kong ($277 million), Japan ($229 million), China ($108 million) and the United States ($66 million), together accounting for nearly 90 per cent of total export value.

Australia’s competitiveness in the fishery and aquaculture export market is influenced by changes in the exchange rates of Australia’s trading partners and competitors. A real depreciation of the domestic currency helps to make exports more competitive. Export trends are in line with exchange rate movements— the Australian dollar depreciated against the US dollar and Japanese yen from 1990–91 to 2000–01 and appreciated against those currencies from 2001–02 to 2015–16, below.

Quantity and value of Australian seafood food exports, 2005–06 to 2015–16

Exchange rates and unit value

Globally, Australia is a small producer and exporter of fishery and aquaculture products, and the prices Australian producers receive are generally set on world markets in foreign currencies. A depreciating Australian dollar generally results in producers receiving a higher export price in Australian dollar terms, while an appreciating Australian dollar results in a lower export price.

There was a strong appreciation of the Australian dollar from 2005–06 to 2012–13, by 37 per cent, against the US dollar; and a moderate appreciation, by 5 per cent, against the Japanese yen (Figure 2). Depreciation of the Australian dollar against these currencies in 2008–09 (17 per cent against the US dollar and 25 per cent against the yen) increased Australian export unit prices in that year. From 2012–13 to 2015–16 the Australian dollar depreciated by 29 per cent against the US dollar and 6 per cent against the yen, putting upward pressure on export unit prices.

Australian dollar exchange rate against US dollar and Japanese yen, 2005–06 to 2015–16

Australian exports of fishery and aquaculture products to Japan declined, on average, at an annual rate of 2 per cent in quantity terms and 8 per cent in value terms between 2005–06 and 2015–16. This decline is linked to a number of factors, including the appreciation of the Australian dollar against the yen and a decline in per-person seafood consumption in Japan since 2001 (FAO 2017); increased Asian prawn aquaculture production displacing some exports of Australian prawns to Japan; and the redirection of Australian seafood trade toward China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Fuel is a significant cost item for fishing businesses and can affect the international competitiveness of Australian fishing businesses. The average price of fuel faced by fishing businesses has been volatile over the period 2005–06 to 2015–16, reaching the lowest point for the entire period in 2015–16, below.

Diesel price, 2005–06 to 2015–16
Note: Price excludes taxes

Australia’s consumption of seafood

Australia’s apparent consumption of seafood increased, on average, at an annual rate of 1.1 per cent between 2005–06 and 2015–16, from an estimated 298,968 tonnes in 2005–06 to 333,321 tonnes in 2015–16 (Figure 5). Over the same period, domestic seafood supply remained steady at around 110,000 tonnes. Imports of seafood have increased to fill the gap between seafood consumption and local seafood supply. Imports of seafood into Australia increased, on average, at an annual rate of 1.7 per cent, from 188,312 tonnes in 2005–06 to 222,778 tonnes in 2015–16.

The largest categories of imported products by value over this period were prepared and preserved fish (mostly canned fish such as tuna), frozen fish, frozen prawns and prepared and preserved prawns. In 2015–16, imports accounted for 67 per cent of Australia’s total apparent consumption of seafood, compared with 63 per cent in 2005–06.

The decline in apparent seafood consumption in Australia in 2015–16 was the result of an increase in exports and a decline in imports more than offsetting an increase in domestic seafood production. Around two-thirds of seafood consumed in Australia is imported, and a marked increase in seafood import prices could have been a cause for reduced import volumes. Because of the large variety of seafood products produced and traded in Australia, it is difficult to identify a single cause for the decline in import volume in 2015–16.

Seafood import price index Australia, 2005–06 to 2015–16
Note: 2011–12 = 100. Seafood is dened as products included in division 3 of the Standard International Trade Classification. Source: ABS 2017

In Australia, apparent consumption of seafood per person (edible equivalent) decreased, on average, at an annual rate of 0.6 per cent, from 14.6 kilograms in 2005–06 to 13.8 kilograms per person in 2015–16. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2017) estimates annual Australian consumption of seafood at around 26 kilograms whole weight per person in 2013 compared with the ABARES estimate of 13.8 kilograms per person for 2015–16. The difference in estimates is mainly the result of different methods of estimating consumption, below). For example, the FAO applies a consistent method of estimation for all countries and provides its estimates on a whole weight basis. While ABARES estimates on a processed edible weight basis, the FAO does not adjust its estimates for Australia to account for sardines used as feed in aquaculture enterprises.

Per-person consumption of seafood ranks fourth out of the five most consumed animal protein sources in Australia, exceeding the consumption of sheep and lamb meat by weight (Figure 6). In 2011 the Australian Seafood Cooperative Research Centre, the University of South Australia and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science undertook a survey to determine the species composition of Australian seafood consumption, how frequently seafood is consumed and how prevalent this consumption is in at-home and out-of-home meals (Danenberg & Mueller 2011). The findings showed that Australians were consuming on average 3.1 meals a week that included a seafood component. When extended over a year, the survey showed that the top five most frequently consumed species were prawns (73 per cent of respondents consumed prawns during the previous year), canned tuna (64 per cent), crumbed and battered fish (56 per cent), squid (48 per cent) and fresh salmon (48 per cent). Reasons provided by survey respondents for consuming seafood included for better health, taste, ease of preparation, diversification from meat consumption, and reasonable prices.

Deriving apparent consumption of Australian seafood

Annual apparent consumption is estimated by adding the total edible quantity of seafood supplied domestically—that is, total production plus imported seafood—less exports of seafood. Apparent consumption provides an estimate of the total amount of seafood consumed in Australia assuming zero change in stocks.

Apparent consumption is a measure often used to track the consumption of agricultural commodities over time.

The production quantity of Australian fishery and aquaculture products is reported in this publication on a whole weight basis, whereas trade data are reported on a processed basis. To align the units of measurement between production and trade data, it is necessary to convert production volume to a processed edible equivalent.

Production volumes are adjusted to an edible quantity basis using species-specific conversion rates and excluding species that are known to be predominantly supplied for non-human consumption purposes, such as for aquaculture feed or bait. Imports and exports of seafood are sourced from Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) trade data and are reported as edible weight. The apparent consumption per person is calculated as the total apparent consumption divided by the total Australian population in each year. The method applied here is consistent with that used by ABARES to estimate apparent consumption of other agricultural commodities produced in Australia.

The FAO also compiles statistics on apparent consumption of seafood, applying a consistent method across all countries. FAO estimates indicate that annual consumption of seafood in Australia is around 26 kilograms per person in 2013—around 11 kilograms higher than the estimates presented here for 2013–14 (FAO 2017). The discrepancy between FAO and ABARES estimates reflects differences in methodological approaches to estimating consumption. Moreover, ABARES estimates seafood consumption on a processed edible basis, whereas the FAO provides its estimates on a whole weight basis.

Apparent consumption, production and net imports of seafood, Australia, 2005–06 to 2015–16
Australian per-person apparent consumption of meats and seafood, 2005–06 to 2015–16
Last reviewed:
24 Apr 2018