With less seafood being reaped from the EU's rapidly depleting stocks, processors are sourcing more imports from outside the bloc for their supplies.
The EU has one of the world's highest trade deficits in fish and fishery products. The poor state of certain EU fishery stocks and the reduction in annual catch quotas make the EU's processing sector more and more dependent on imports from third countries for supplies.
Proposed quota reductions for this year in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean fishing areas will make processors even more dependent on imports.
In 2004, EU imports of fish and fishery products totaled € 12 billion while exports totaled €2 billion, a trade deficit of € 10 billion, a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report stated.
In 2004, 82 per cent of total EU fish imports were non-processed fishery products. Processed products classified as "fish fillets and other fish meat" account for 25 per cent of total EU fish imports.
Germany is the fourth largest fish processor in the EU, after
The UK is the largest fish processor in the EU, followed by France, Spain and Germany.
France is a major seafood consumer and a net importer of many seafood products, including salmon, shellfish, surimi, and a variety of whitefish. France is the largest market for salmon, scallops in Europe.
France's largest supplier is other EU countries, followed by Madagascar and the US. The US is the country's largest supplier of lobster and surimi products.
Germany sources only 25 per cent of its unprocessed fish domestically. German imports of fish and fishery products in 2004 totaled 774,095 tonnes, valued at €2.12 billion. About 40 per cent of the country's imports originated from other EU countries, with third countries accounting for the remaining 60 per cent.
Norway is a major fishery product exporter, with seafood ranking as the country's third largest segment. In 2004, the value of Norwegian seafood exports amounted to $4.2 billion, an increase of 7.6 per cent from 2003. In volume, fishery product exports amounted to 1.9 million tonnes.
The EU accounts for 61 per cent of Norwegian fish exports. In 2004, seafood exports to non-EU countries increased their relative share by one percent to 39 percent. Denmark and Japan are the largest single markets for Norwegian seafood, with each accounting for about 11 percent of the country's total exports.
Within the EU processors are increasing their demand for exports of US seafood. Imports from the US continued to grow dramatically in value during 2005, driven by high-value products, including lobster, wild salmon, cod, surimi, scallops and whiting (hake).
Exports of such seafood products set new 11-month export value record, and, with the exception of whiting, surpassed previous calendar year sales records, the USDA stated.
Total US seafood exports to the bloc amounted to 267,478 tonnes, an increase of 0.1 per cent over the same January-November period in 2004. The total export value was $849 million, a 13 per cent increase for the period.
Scallop imports skyrocketed to $62 million, a 94 per cent increase above the 2004 11-month sales. Over the past decade, the US has become a major supplier in the EU market due to the availability of larger scallops, consistent supplies, and improved product quality and management of the fishery, according to the USDA.
Since 1996, exports of surimi rose 864 per cent for the 11-month period to 33,654 tonnes in 2005. The increase reflects the significant rise in EU production and consumption of surimi products, many of which contain Alaska pollock.
EU surimi production has increased substantially in France, the Baltic states and Spain. US lobster continues to find large markets in Italy, Spain and France, the USDA reported.
Strong EU demand for cod and domestic supply constraints have spurred US imports, which have rose by about 300 per cent since 1996.
The increased acceptance by EU processors of US Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) is one of the drivers behind the import growth, the USDA stated.
From 1995 to 2003, the catch by the EU 25 members has decreased by 26 per cent, of which 71 per cent came from the Northeast Atlantic. The main species caught in 2003 were Atlantic herring, blue whiting, mackerel and sprat. Severely depleted sandeel and anchovy stocks led to the emergency
closure of those fisheries in 2005.
This year the EU has imposed tougher new quotas on fishing. The measures include a a 10 per cent reduction and a ban on the use of gillnets in the northern part of the western Atlantic waters.
Due to the alarming situation of cod stocks outside the Baltic Sea, the Commission has proposed a 15 per cent reduction in both catch and days at sea.
The Commission also proposed a 15 per cent effort reduction for trawlers targeting species such as nephrops, whiting and flatfish. Quotas for sole in the western Channel have been cut by 10 per cent.
Last month, the EU's fishing regulator imposed more restraints on catches designed to protect the bloc's Mediterranean stocks. The new restrictions, which include a ban on deep-water trawling in some areas, will affect fishing fleets from Spain, France, Greece and Italy.
A call last year by an EU scientific body for cutbacks on allowable fish catches or for a complete halt for some key species in the northeast Atlantic is pushing the Commission toward more stringent limits on the sector. However political pressure has meant compromises with the various member states.
Scientists from the influential International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) released a report in October calling for a complete overhaul of deep-sea fisheries in the north east Atlantic, which accounts for 60 per cent of the EU's production.
The ICES annual assessment is used by the European Commission in recommending levels in the annual quota negotiations. The ICES recommends that all existing deep-sea fisheries should be cutback to low levels until they can demonstrate that they are sustainable.
Aquaculture represents 17 per cent of total production in the EU.