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Mussels face new challenges while scallop market more competitive.

Galician mussel farmers estimated in November 2010 that during this season, mussel production will decrease by 30% compared with 2009. They attribute the fall to red tides, heavy rains in spring and low water temperature in summer, but hope conditions might be better by the end of the year. December is the high season for sales and that is why the Galician Government supported the campaign during the Christmas season to encourage consumption of mussels. Chile in 2010, despite being affected by a weak dollar, regained its exports to EU and USA and looked at opening new markets such as Russia, as well as Mexico and Brazil.

A difficult year for Galician producers

According to Galician Mussel Regulatory Council 2010 was one of the most difficult for mussel producers. By mid year, many requests had been received from mussel-boat operators seeking to transfer their operations from less productive areas that are particularly prone to red tides and the accumulation of marine biotoxins. Floating mussel nurseries have also lodged similar transfer requests. Companies came under scrutiny because of non-compliance with regulations for offences such as boats not anchoring in their allocated positions and avoiding correct administrative controls to gain advantages over rival companies. As a result of these problems, the regional fisheries minister decided to look at the reorganisation of the farming process and better management of areas suitable for aquaculture, including interim suspensions while the relocation requests were considered. For five months of 2010, Galician farmers were hampered by red tides, which caused serious damage to the mussel sector, as farmers were not allowed to market their mussels. In August, only seven areas of total mussel farming sites (from 49 rafts areas) in Galician estuaries were operating. Normally, around 65-70% of annual sales of bivalves from Galicia take place between July and September, just at the same time as mussel sites were kept closed in 2010.

Not all is “made in Galicia”

Towards the end of 2010, the Galician Mussel Regulatory Council criticised Anfaco (the national association for canned products manufacturers) for openly admitting that its companies use up to 60% of foreign products in their canned mussels, while still marketing them as “made in Galicia”. However, it is common knowledge that Spanish companies invested capital in the development of mussel farms in Chile and that they are still responsible for 38% of Chilean mussel exports. Closure of production areas had a negative impact on the price of mussels. However, the trend will follow the same pattern as in 2009, when 61.69% of blue mussels were marketed in the fresh market, while the remaining 38.31% went to the canning industry.

Higher production and exports of mussels from Chile

Chilean production of mussels between January and September 2010 totaled 191 942 tonnes, a 33% increase compared with the same period in 2009, when harvests of mussels were 144 558 tonnes. The higher availability of mussels allowed a 30.6% increase of exports in terms of volume, which, as a result of a 10% drop in average unit value, grew 18% in terms of value, totaling 40 440 tonnes worth USD 90.7 million. Despite the higher availability of raw material, industry operators have said that the existing stocks are just adequate to meet prior commitments. This is because of a change in trade patterns and lower sizes of harvest, which have reduced the supply of export products. Some players argue that a surplus of raw material to be harvested is behind the low performance of crops. Domestic demand has increased because the Chilean peso has appreciated against the US dollar. However 75% of exported volumes in the period under review were destined to the EU markets. Exports to the EU markets grew 30% in quantity in the period reviewed and 18% in terms of value. Spain is the main destination for Chilean exports of mussels. This market individually accounted for 22% of total traded volumes and 28% of total revenues in the first nine months of 2010. The second main market is France, with a 20% share in terms of volume, followed by Italy (14%) and the US (12%). Among the main markets, the US showed the lowest growth rate of purchases, +4.5% in terms of quantity, and given the drop of nearly 20% in unit value, total value of exports fell 16%. On the other hand, sales to Italy showed a very good performance, with unit value almost unchanged, -1%. Frozen products account for 94% of total exports in quantity in the first nine months of 2010, while canned products have a larger share (13%) thanks to a higher unit value of exports.

The chilean mussel industry remains affected by the last crisis and outlook is rather uncertain

At the end of 2010, representatives of several producers’ associations met with the Minister of Economy and the Fishing Undersecretary to discuss issues that are concerning the industry. They pointed out that the industry was still seriously affected by the last crisis in the sector, and that the high level of debt meant that many players had not been able to reach an agreement with banking institutions. They also noted that the export certification scheme was a significant cost burden for small exporters, and alternatives to this scheme would be necessary. The short term outlook for the rest of 2010 and early 2011 remains uncertain because of the change in trade patterns, as well as exchange rate concerns, and the low yield of harvests that is affecting the amount of raw material for exports.

Mussels are going green

Recently, mussel farming sites of Empresa Pesquera Apiao S. A. in Chile obtained Friend of the Sea certification. The company’s general manager said that by achieving this certification consumers could be confident that mussels sold by the company were produced in a natural and environmentally responsible manner. At the beginning of 2010, Danish mussels caught by Vilsund Muslinge Industri (VMI) became the first mussels to carry the MSC ecolabel. VMI’s annual catch is about 30 000 tonnes. They are sold ready-shelled, cooked and frozen, or as whole live mussels to European markets. In September 2010, mussels from Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG) were the first farmed seafood in the UK to be awarded with Friend of the Sea (FoS) certification. There are 14 mussel farms in the SSMG group, which are located on the Scottish west coast and Shetland and represent about 70% of total Scottish mussel production. Spring Bay Mussels in Tasmania achieved Friend of the Sea certification in 2009 and in February 2010 won acclaim for new technology that allows environmentally sustainable farming of Australian blue mussels. These mussels are also certified as organically produced by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia.

Scallop market is getting more competitive

The scallop market is becoming increasingly competitive. The increase in availability in the last few years, in fishing as well as in aquaculture, has stimulated the consumption of fresh and frozen scallops, but has also brought a decrease in prices, mainly in the biggest market, which is France. 2009 was a record year for scallops in France, according to industry consultant Marie-Christine Monfort. The country imported scallops for a total of more than EUR 210 million (USD 251 million), while overall consumption when including domestic production, reached nearly 180 000 tonnes. French consumption is dependent on imports from third countries as national production is not sufficient. According to National Statistics, Peru led imports in the first nine months of 2010 on the French market, with an increase of 50% over the period of 2009, reaching 5 100 tonnes, ahead of Argentina. Total imports in France in this period increased by 5.8% to 19 900 tonnes. In Spain, between January and September, demand dropped to 7 300 tonnes (14%) compared with 2009. Imports from Italy were the most affected in this period, dropping by 1200. At the beginning of December, European Commission gave permission for fresh chilled scallops from Chile to be imported into the EU. Up till then only frozen or processed scallops were allowed to be imported. This new dispensation means that Chile will be able to compete better with Peru in exporting scallops, particularly to the French market In September 2010 this resource decreased by 29.6% in the value over the same period in 2009. According to Subpesca, 8 700 tonnes were harvested up tol September, 19.3% less than in 2009. In contrast, however, the European Commission decided to extend its decision to ban the import of certain bivalve molluscs intended for human consumption from Peru until 30 November 2011. The ban was initially instituted following an outbreak of Hepatitis A in the EU in 2008, and, although Peru has informed the Commission that it has put in place additional control measures, the Commission will send an inspection mission to Peru before lifting the ban. According to FAO, Peruvian scallops imports into Spain has decreased since 2008. From January to September 2010, imports from Peru were only 0.2 tonnes, 66% less than 2008. In an effort to address industry concerns over growing abuses, the American Scallop Association, representing 18 scallop companies and a majority of US scallop production, announced in November a plan to enforce labeling and packing standards to combat short weight scallop packs. All members of the Association agreed to third party inspections to check for proper weights and labels. They are also working with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s inspection service to address issues concerning fraud.

Shellfish is ignored as healthy food in UK

The British Food Standards Agency (FSA) does not include shellfish in its recommendations for seafood consumption. The Shellfish Accociation of Great Britain (SAGB) has been investigating the nutritional and health benefits of eating shellfish and says that the FSA should include shellfish in its recommendations as they are as nutritious as finfish and also beneficial to human health. Domestic consumption of shellfish is low and the association wants to highlight the importance of shellfish to policymakers. Bivalves are also low in cholesterol and valuable sources omega-3 fatty acids, and should be considered as an option for one of the two-a-week seafood meals recommended by the FSA. In the UK, the figures published in the media in March 2010 stated that sales of mussels had increased 35.8% in one year and sales of scallops had increased by 12.6%. It was suggested that this was because shellfish was often used in cookery programmes on TV.


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