China’s pricey seafood fetish is pushing fish prices to record highs

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It’s the umpteenth example of all roads leading back to China: Rising demand for seafood in China, coupled with dwindling global fish supplies, is pushing global fish prices to all-time highs. The United Nations fish price index, which tracks the cost of seafood, rose 15% in May (paywall), compared to the same month a year ago. The index surpassed its earlier peak in 2011, according to a report released this month:

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Demand from emerging markets like China, smaller catches, diseases affecting fish, and higher fish food prices were responsible for the uptick (pdf, p.44), the report said.

China is a net exporter of fish and fishery products. But as middle-class incomes rise in the country, more people are eating fish. Chinese demand for oyster and mussels, for example, is growing as much as 20% a year, the UN said. Oyster prices have more than doubled over the past three years and would likely “remain strong” this year, according to the report. Tuna prices have also grown 12% this year.

As we’ve reported before, China’s contribution to the world’s fish trade, which is expected to reach $130 billion this year, has grown dramatically over the past two decades.