Tuna Market: in Depth Analysis

Global market

The world tuna fishery represents 4.4 million tonnes in 2009. It breaks down into five major species:
> Skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis): 2,600,000 tonnes
> yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares): 1 100 000 tonnes
> bigeye tuna or bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus): 405 000 tonnes
> albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga): 256 000 tonnes
> bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus): 21 000 tonnes
The world’s leading producers are Indonesia (476,000 tonnes), Japan (463,000 tonnes), the Philippines (412,000 tonnes)
and Taiwan (326,000 tons). France is in the 15th rank.

Tuna market analysis

Since the beginning of the 1950s, catches of tuna have increased nine-fold, thanks to the development of the yellowfin tuna and skipjack tuna fisheries. Especially Filipino and Taiwanese, as well as tropical fisheries in European countries (mainly France and Spain).

Evolution of world catches by volume
Japan, although it is only in second place since 2009, is the essential country of tuna catches since 1950. He experienced considerable growth between the years 50 and 80, thanks to the industrial development of the country. Since the 90s, its catches are reduced, which is to be linked with the spectacular growth of fisheries in other Asian countries Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines, and South Korea. The United States, which was a key player in fisheries tuna until 1990, is now only 8th in 2009, with volumes equivalent to those of 70s (about 200,000 tons). New actors have appeared since about fifteen years, especially China and Papua New Guinea, which reach respectively 200 000 and 100 000 tonnes. The development of tuna fisheries is mainly catches of yellowfin and skipjack – which account for 85% of the volumes caught in 2009 – and in a to a lesser extent, bigeye tuna. Albacore only represents 6% of catches (against 25% in 1950) and bluefin tuna less 1% (compared to 6% in 1950). Subsequently, this summary will deal only with species albacore, yellowfin, and skipjack, more specific to the French market. These three species will often be grouped under the name “tuna”. The tuna market is characterized by extremely important, both in raw materials (frozen products) and semi-finished products (tuna loins) or in finished products (canned goods), approximately 3 million tonnes, or three quarters catches) worth $ 10 billion. There are producing countries that export tropical tuna1 frozen to the transforming countries; this is the case of Taiwan (390 000 tonnes exported), Indonesia (120 000 tonnes) and from France (80 000 tonnes). Transforming countries like Thailand, Seychelles or Côte d’Ivoire, import frozen raw materials and export canned goods. Japan acts in all sectors: it is a big fishing country (500 000 tonnes), importer (270 000 tonnes), exporter (100,000 tons) and the consumer. The exchanges are done mainly in a frozen product, and allow to meet country-specific requests: Japanese people import from yellowfin tuna and export albacore.

The relative decline in fuel prices in 2009 has had the effect to raise the level of catches and partially restore the the profitability of the canning industry. Since 2009, the tropical tuna fleet fishing in the ocean Indian has been the victim of frequent attacks by pirates and have forced vessels, especially Community vessels, to restrict their trips to sea. At the global level, canned tuna markets are strongly driven by the demand, on the one hand, from developed countries to provide products at affordable prices for all their population including the most modest households, and, on the other hand, by growing demand from the countries emerging countries that achieve living standards that allow them to access to this type of high-quality protein (eg Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, China …). In parallel, the Japanese market undergoes changes, including a decrease in demand for sashimi of superior quality, resulting in lower prices.

The French tuna market

French production of tuna

The French tuna fishery is broken down into different segments:
> frozen tuna fishing brine for manufacturing canned fish (yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, skipjack tuna, and albacore tuna);
> Fresh frozen non-pickled tropical tuna fishing (yellowfin species, bigeye tuna, and skipjack);
> fresh albacore fishing;
> fishing for fresh bluefin tuna (not covered in this summary).

Tropical tuna

The tropical tuna fishery is carried out by 25 freezer tuna seiners under the French flag, grouped in the organization of Orthongel producers in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The vast majority of production is landed directly in the transforming countries, mainly on the African continent.


The French albacore fishery, mainly in the Bay of Biscay, has been marked in recent years by a wide variability of availability. The years 2005 and 2006 were particularly prolific, but since then, the contributions are decreasing keep on going.

Tuna trade and main markets in the French market

Tropical tuna

For regulatory reasons related to the EU hygiene package, frozen tropical tuna brine is exclusively intended for the manufacture of preserves. It is exported for this purpose to landing country near the production areas (Seychelles, Mauritius, Ivory Coast) or transshipped to countries of the European Union with canneries, such as Spain and Italy (respectively 13 000 tonnes and 4000 tonnes of frozen yellowfin tuna) or more rarely to other specialized countries in the cannery (Thailand). These flows represent approximately 98 000 tonnes of fish (live weight equivalent), for a value 90 million euros in 2010. France imports around 100,000 tons of canned goods a year of which 18 000 tonnes from Spain, 19 000 tonnes from Côte d’Ivoire, 13 000 tonnes from Seychelles and 12 000 tonnes from Ecuador. In addition, France imports around 7 000 tonnes of yellowfin tuna frozen. The majority of these volumes are destined for the cannery (90%), the remaining 10%, mostly from Spain, unbranched and at a significantly higher average price, are used for sushi. In addition to these volumes, approximately 8,000 tonnes of loins pre-cooked brine from Ghana, Thailand and from Ecuador, and to the cannery. There are also imports of chilled yellowfin tuna (between 2,000 and 2,500 tonnes), mainly from the Yemen until 2007 and then Sri Lanka and the Maldives from from 2008, for the consumption in expenses (radius fresh or sushi). These are mainly loins from 2 to 5 kg arriving under vacuum, by plane. The refrigerated presentation imposes very strict controls health-related requirements, in particular on the content of histamines1 products.


The production of frozen albacore is largely destined for the French canning industry, but especially since a few years Spanish (where it is exported as fresh), or even to Seychelles (frozen export). Since 2008 and the sharp fall of French production, exports are much lower (around 1 000 tonnes, half of which are fresh). A small part of French fresh catch production is placed on the national market, ie for the cannery (trawl albacore)
on the fresh market for albacore.

The French canning industry

In 2009, the tuna processing industry involved 13 companies, which worked around 28 000 tonnes of raw fish, and who made about 177 million cans. The majority of the raw material comes in the form of loins (75%), mainly skipjack.

Tuna salads represent the largest segment of the canning industry with 64% of the volumes. Then come to the appetizers with 18% of the fabrications. French production of canned tuna is on a downward trend (- 12% of the number of boxes compared to 2008). The segment the most affected is that of tuna-based preparations (salads and appetizers) competing on supermarket shelves by the catering products, in full expansion. In addition to their supplies in French ports, French canneries import fresh albacore (
Spain) or frozen (South Africa, Spain).

The consumption of tuna in France

With about 220,000 tonnes (live weight equivalent) available in 2010 on the French market, tuna is the first aquatic species consumed. The consumption of tuna is essentially in canned foods (about 94% of the value of household purchases of tuna). The consumption in the fresh section accounts for 4% and 2% for frozen food. The consumption of preserves is mainly about natural tuna (53% market share volume), then come the tuna crumbs (21%), and tuna salads (15%). The penetration1 of canned tuna is the highest in the market aquatic products and amounts to 89%. Canned tuna is mainly marketed in large and medium-sized surfaces (72% of marketed volumes) and in hard discount with a price differential of around € 3 / kg between the two distribution channels. They are consumed throughout France, rather by outbreaks modest and family, and mainly in the spring and summer, entering in the composition of salads. Canned tuna purchases have been declining for several years (- 4% between 2005 and 2010). In 2009, with the economic crisis, canned goods are back, supported by tuna natural (+ 9%). The products developed to continue to decline. At the average price level, there has been an increase since 2006 on all products. The overall increase can be attributed to the change in the purchasing structure: more natural tuna more expensive (8.5 € / kg), fewer salads less expensive (5.4 € / kg), tipping due in part to a return of the “homemade”. With regard to the consumption of fresh tuna, unfortunately, the analysis of consumer panels does not allow us to not to distinguish the species (very low volumes and difficulty identification of species by the consumer). It’s about a highly regionalized consumption, close to production areas (coastal strip). Given the high price (14.9 € / kg in GMS, € 18.6 / kg in the markets and € 16.9 / kg in fishmongers), these are mostly elderly and well-off households who buy it.

Purchases of fresh tuna are mainly made in summer (barbecued consumption, grilled tuna, and winter fishing season) fresh albacore).

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