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EU relies on imports for nearly 90% of the whitefish it consumes

'Self sufficiency is never going to be something we can achieve in the EU.'

The EU has always been heavily reliant on imports when it comes to seafood, but particularly so when it comes to whitefish, according to Simon Rilatt, director at Espersen.

Giving a presentation for the European Seafood Federation (AIPCEE), Rilatt noted how the EU market for whitefish has grown by about 10 percent since 2012, driven predominantly by cod. In 2017, the EU market for groundfish amounted to 3.12 million metric tons --- 1.23 million of which was cod -- this compares to just over 2.8 million metric tons back in 2012.

“This means the EU is a growing market, outpacing the rest of the word, and the EU is taking a larger share of the global market for whitefish. But we are heavily reliant on imports.”

According to Rilatt, across all fish species, 62 percent of supply into the EU is imported but, after allowing for exports, “we are actually close to 73 percent dependent in consumption terms.”

“For the 3.12 million metric tons of whitefish the dependence is 89 percent,” he said. “In other words we are only 11 percent self sufficient.

“Self sufficiency is never going to be something we can achieve in the EU.”

Currently, EU fisheries do not come close to fulfilling their potential -- in 2017, whitefish quotas in the EU added up to 512,723 metric tons, across the seven species: cod, saithe, haddock, hake, redfish, pollock and whiting.

But even if utilization reached 100 percent, it would only add 130,000 metric tons to supply.

EU whitefish demand is now established at at more than 3 million metric tons so this would mean just a 4 percent growth.

“There is a potential for the EU fisheries to provide more, which we will welcome, but imports will continue to dominate,” said Rilatt.

“We must keep the attraction of the EU as a market for global fish and seafood and continue to encourage consumption.”

Additionally, trade issues -- such as trade wars between US and China and Brexit -- are getting more tricky to handle, and Rilatt said the EU needs to maintain flexibility in its approach, using solutions such as Autonomous Tariff Quotas (ATQs) and better regulations to its advantage.

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