European Seafood Market Profile

EuropeFrance is the single largest market for seafood within the EU, followed by Spain, Italy, the UK and Germany.  Sales of high-value seafood products (such as lobster, scallops and monkfish), which are mainly consumed in the hotel, restaurant and industrial (HRI) sector, can be more difficult during periods of economic downturn.  European demand for same, or market-same, Food Export-Northeast seafood benchmark products is reflected in Global Trade Atlas data.  Total imports into the Europe region for the benchmark, or market same products, amounted to nearly US$3.7 billion in 2013, down 1.37% from the prior year.  The U.S., with exports of US$258.2 million in 2013, was the fifth largest supplier.

According to FAS trade data, total U.S. seafood exports to Food Export-Northeast’s Europe region during 2014 were US$1.2 billion, up 8% in value over 2013. The top five country markets for U.S. seafood products were:  Germany (at US$345.8 million, up 10% over 2013 and representing 28% of total exports to the region); the Netherlands (US$190.4 million, up 13% and representing 15% of the total); the United Kingdom (US$143.4 million, up 7% and representing 11.5% of the total); France (US$135 million, down 7% and representing 11% of exports to the region); and Spain (at US$129.4 million, up 12% and accounting for 10% of exports to the region).  Leading U.S. seafood products were: pollock (with sales of US$133 million, up 14% over 2013); lobster (at US$163.6 million, up 3%); un-canned salmon (US$119 million, down 5%); surimi (US$86 million, down 5%); and scallops (US$76.7 million, down 1%).

FAS trade data indicates that U.S. seafood exports of combined Food Export-Northeast UES benchmark seafood products to the Europe region totaled US$282.5 million and represented 23% of total U.S. seafood exports to the region in 2014.  American lobster (at US$162.4 million) moved up to second place as a leading U.S. seafood export to the EU in 2014 and scallops (at US$76.7 million) moved up to fifth place.  Exports in 2014 of other benchmark seafood products were: dogfish at US$11.8 million (up 7%); monkfish at US$5.1 million (down 2%); squid at US$22.2 million (up 58%); Atlantic herring at US$3.5 million (up 61%); and Atlantic mackerel at US$.6 million (down 16%).

Major consumption markets for Food Export-Northeast benchmark products during 2014 were: Italy (at US$61.4 million, up 14%); France (at US$57.8 million, down 16% from 2013); and Spain (at US$48.5 million, up 8%).  These three markets together accounted US$168 million in sales and for 59% of total Food Export-Northeast benchmark seafood sales to Europe.

Market Characteristics:


Italy is the third-largest economy in the euro-zone and a major consumer of seafood. With a large population of more than 61 million and per capita seafood consumption of 26 kg, Italy is the world’s fifth largest importer of seafood. Due to decreases in local production, Italy relies on heavily imports to meet seafood demand, though imports have been unstable during euro-zone economic turbulence. 

According to Global Trade Atlas data, in 2013 Italy imported US$4.3 billion (up 2.6% over 2012) and 702,473 MT of seafood (up 1.5%).  EU countries supply the bulk of imported seafood (with Spain as the primary supplier). Leading extra-EU suppliers during 2013 were Argentina, Ecuador, Thailand and Vietnam.  By value, the U.S. ranked as 16th largest supplier with a market share of 1.7% (up 2% over 2012).   The U.S. ranked as sixth largest supplier and fourth largest extra-EU supplier of Food Export-Northeast UES benchmark, same or market-same, seafood products during 2013 with a 7% market share. 

According to FAS trade data, U.S. seafood exports to Italy were nearly US$95 million in 2014 (up 17% over 2013) and 15,009 MT (up 25%) with Food Export-Northeast benchmark seafood products accounting for US$61.4 million, or 65% of the total value.  Lobster (valued at US$54.7 million, up 9% over 2013) and squid (valued at US$6.2 million and up 146%) were leading seafood exports from the northeast U.S.  American lobster competes heavily with prawns and rock/spiny lobster, while main competitors for squid are: other EU countries, South Africa, Thailand, India, Vietnam, Tunisia, the Falkland Islands, Morocco, China, India and Mauritania.

According to FAS/Rome, Italian seafood consumption has increased by more than 50% since 1988 and further growth is expected over the long-term.  Improved logistics and the development of multiple retailers has been a major factor in increasing seafood consumption.  Fresh seafood constitutes 53% of total seafood consumption, canned 20%, frozen portioned 15%, frozen bulk 8% and dried/smoked/salted 4%.

Euromonitor reports that in the short- to medium-term view, the outlook for fish and seafood is mixed.  Fresh fish consumption is expected to decline due to the difficult economic climate and resulting consumer price sensitivity in relation to the relatively high price of fish compared with meat.  Over the long term, fresh fish consumption is expected to return to its normal level of strong consumer demand.  Fresh fish is important to Italians and is generally highly appreciated for its health characteristics.  Consumption is expected to return to pre-recession consumption patterns as soon as economic conditions improve.

Also according to Euromonitor, a continuing economic crisis and low purchasing power of Italian consumers are, in fact, the most dangerous risks this food category can face.  Concerns about the traceability of fish, and the bad reputation of imported fish, can also represent a threat to consumption growth. The dubious image of non-European fish regulations and controls can, in fact, negatively affect this market.  Stricter rules (both national and European) may play an important role in assuring consumers about fish quality and traceability.

Fish distribution in Italy varies considerably by region.  Shopping habits differ region-by-region with a strong tendency to buy fresh fish at a street market or directly from fishermen in the southern part of the country and in the seaside areas.  Inland and in cities, consumers make most purchases at supermarkets and hypermarkets.  The lower prices of products at supermarkets and hypermarkets are enabling these retail channels to increase their role as fresh fish distributors.  Furthermore, the quality and the freshness these distribution channels can represent a guarantee for consumers.  Consumers’ attention to the provenance of the fish products they are buying is growing. In general, wild-caught fish is considered better than farmed fish.  Local fish is preferred to imports.

Seafood consumption is usually linked to the out-of-home eating experience and is still considered by the majority of consumers as an occasional treat, especially in the case of shellfish. The Italian government has successfully increased at-home seafood consumption through a number of promotional campaigns aimed at increasing consumer awareness for the health benefits of seafood. Consumers favor sea bass, cod, sole and salmon for at-home consumption but prefer monkfish, squid, octopus and lobster when dining out.

The HRI sector is the largest outlet for seafood consumption.  According to FAS/Rome, Italy’s HRI industry is lucrative and growing, boosted by the fact that every year more than 47.7 million tourists visit – making Italy the world’s fifth leading tourist destination.  The HRI sector is diverse and fragmented, dominated by many small establishments.  Italy is slowly moving toward trends and lifestyles seen in other European countries. The foodservice industry is benefiting from one of these trends: with more workers unable to return home for a midday meal, increasing numbers are eating out for lunch as well for the evening meal.

Most imported food products enter the Italian market through brokers or specialized traders. Price is an increasingly important basis for import purchase decisions, although quality and novelty do move some products. Imported products from North America often enter Italy indirectly from the Netherlands Port of Rotterdam or directly via air. Wholesalers are the main customers for fish and seafood products, as they purchase and distribute products to consumers through supermarkets, hypermarkets, local fish shops, restaurants, and fishmongers and fish processors.  In Italy, there are over 1,000 fish wholesalers--100 of which are considered to be importers. FAS/Rome reports that unlike other European nations, the Italian retail sector has been resistant to change, as consolidation remains low and traditional grocery stores (so-called Mom and Pop stores) continue to represent the largest segment of the food retail sector, followed by open-air markets. Nonetheless, consolidation is slowly gaining momentum.

HRI establishments source products independently.  Most of the processed food and raw material sourcing decisions are made directly by the restaurant chef and/or hotel-purchasing director. High-end restaurants are very receptive to U.S. lobster and squid. Catering demand for U.S. live lobster is strong due to its reasonable price.  The higher-priced spiny lobster is still considered a luxury product with peak consumption limited to upper-class restaurants on special occasions.  Squid has a high level of consumption throughout the country, especially during the summer holiday period. U.S. squid has been facing tough competition in recent years from other countries that have the competitive advantages of lower production costs and duty-free status.


France is a major market for seafood, with one of the highest levels of per capita seafood consumption in Europe (36 kg per year), a population of more than 65 million, and domestic production well below consumption.  Domestic fishery production meets only 20% of French consumer demand.  About 68% of French seafood consumption is finfish and 32% is shellfish and crustaceans.  According to Global Trade Atlas data, France imported US$5 billion (up 8.5% over 2012) and 796,110 MT (down .48%) of seafood in 2013.  By value, the United States, with a 4% market share, was the eighth largest supplier worldwide, and second from outside of the EU - after the United Kingdom, Sweden, The Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Belgium and Ecuador.   For the Northeast benchmark products, the U.S. ranked as second largest supplier worldwide (after the UK) and was the leading non-EU supplier during 2013 with a market share of nearly 13.6%.

According to FAS trade data, U.S. seafood exports to France were US$135 million (down 7%) and 28,964 MT (down 5%) in 2014.  Food Export-Northeast benchmark seafood products accounted for nearly US$58 million and 43% of the total value of U.S. seafood products imported.  American lobster (at US$33.8 million, down 6%) and scallops (at US$19 million, down 26%) were the leading U.S. seafood products sold. U.S. exports of dogfish were US$1.8 million (down 51%) and sales of monkfish decreased 20% to US$2.1 million.   

French demand for seafood remains high but declines in consumer purchasing power have led consumers to be more cautious about spending.  According to Euromonitor’s recent data, total volume sales of fish and seafood in France increased by 2% in 2013 to 330,700 MT.  Price remained the primary factor in purchasing decisions. The volume of fish sold increased by 3%, reaching 199,400 MT.  However, sales of crustaceans, and other high-value priced products (like lobster, scallops and monkfish) at retail and foodservice declined.  

Sales of fish and shellfish through French retailers were estimated by FAS to be US$9 billion in 2013 and the average annual growth rate, by value, was estimated at 1%.  Competition from lower-price alternative suppliers is the primary limiting factor to growth. However, U.S. fish and shellfish are positively viewed for quality and the health benefits they provide.

Rungis Market is the backbone of fish and seafood distribution in France. Most grocery retailers and wholesalers purchase their stock of fish and seafood there. The increasing presence of hypermarkets and supermarkets offers consumers greater shopping convenience. This negatively impacts sales for French fishmongers, which is leading to a great reduction in the number of independent fish markets. The influence and solid financial structure of hypermarkets and supermarkets enables them to offer consumers a wider variety of products.

In 2010, wholesale fish merchants and retailers created the association France Filière Pêche (France Fishing Network). The objective is to move towards a more sustainable and responsible fishing industry.  Consumers, as well as key industry players and retailers, show growing interest in responsible consumption.  As a result, the foodservice industry, particularly hotels and restaurants, have increased their offerings of seasonal fish and seafood on menus.  Consumer purchasing patterns are expected to become increasingly oriented towards sustainably-managed seafood supplies within retail as well as foodservice.  Pressure for third-party sustainability certification has forced U.S. producers of lobster (Maine’s lobster fishery), sea scallops and dogfish to attain costly ecolabel certification.  Product promotions play a big role in both the retail and HRI trade sectors.  Retailers may have their own specialized quality seal and labeling programs.  Both the retail and HRI sectors may require introductory, or periodic, product promotion support from suppliers.

Seafood demand is strong within the French HRI sector due to strong domestic appreciation and the high volume of tourism.  The country remained the leading tourist destination worldwide, receiving 85 million inbound arrivals in 2013. According to Euromonitor, tourist spending, both international and domestic, played a major role in sustaining economic activity in France, contributing 7% to France’s total GDP. The consumer foodservice sector is fragmented, with independent domestic operators dominating outlets and sales.

American lobster was the leading U.S. seafood product sold to France in 2014.  U.S. exports were valued at US$33.7 million (down 6% in value and down 3% in volume). Lobster is considered a luxury product in France that is primarily consumed through the HRI sector.  It is also considered a festive product with consumer demand highest during the December holidays.  The U.S. is the leading overall supplier of lobster to France, competing primarily with the UK, Canada and Ireland. Canadian American lobster and U.S. American lobster compete for French market share.  North American Homarus lobsters are very price-competitive compared to the European Homarus species harvested in France, the UK and Ireland.  The U.S. is the leading supplier of live lobster and Canada is the leading supplier of frozen lobster (though some Canadian frozen lobster is actually also U.S.-origin lobster).  

Scallops remain the most consumed shellfish, due in large part to consumer awareness that they are packed with a variety of nutrients such as Vitamin B12, Omega 3 fatty acids and magnesium - which are considered good for cardiovascular health.  France is second only to the U.S. as a consumer of scallops.  Traditionally, scallops were considered festive products in France that were principally consumed in December. However, the increasing availability of frozen products (particularly from the northeastern U.S.) on the French market helped to make scallop consumption more regular throughout the year.  In general, the larger the scallop, the higher the price.  Only a few species can reach a large size, namely the Pecten maximus scallop (from the Eastern Atlantic) and Placopecten magellanicus (the species fished in the north Atlantic U.S. and Canada).  The market for scallops is segmented into: graded products for processing; frozen products (with, or without, roe) for foodservice and the retail sector; and fresh products for restaurants, street vendors and specialized seafood shops. 

In 2012, the French seafood agency FranceAgriMer launched a nationwide media campaign to encourage French shoppers to support the country’s scallop industry by increasing their consumption of the native scallop species. France annually consumes 25% of the world's scallop production and it is predicted that French demand for scallops will continue to grow.  France is a net importer of scallops, as domestic production is significantly lower than consumption.  The United States has quickly risen to become one of the largest suppliers of scallops to France.  The bulk of U.S. scallop exports to France were originally frozen, but quantities of fresh scallops have steadily increased to now make up about 50% of exports. The decline in purchases of U.S. sea scallops in 2014 was the combined effect of reduced U.S. production, which resulted in higher prices during a period of decreased French consumer purchasing power resulting from Europeaneconomic turmoil.  U.S. scallops compete with Peruvian, Chilean, Argentinean and Canadian products.


With a resident population of 47 million and normal seafood consumption at about 28 kilos per capita, Spain ranks as the world's third largest consumer of seafood products.  Annual total fish harvests continue to decline as a result of decreasing fish stocks and tighter catch quotas in both EU and non-EU waters.  According to the Global Trade Atlas and most recent data, Spain imported nearly 1.2 million MT of seafood at a value of more than US$5.4 billion during 2013.  Import volume and value remained largely consistent from the year prior. Non-EU countries are substantial suppliers (with much of this being squid). Leading suppliers in 2013 were Argentina, Morocco, France, Portugal, China, The Netherlands and the UK.  The U.S. ranked as the 17th largest supplier worldwide and 9th leading non-EU supplier.  Overall the U.S. market share for sales of fishery products was 2%.  When examining only the benchmark products from the Food Export – Northeast region, the U.S. had a 7% market share and was the 6th largest supplier during 2013.   

According to FAS trade data, U.S. seafood exports to Spain were US$129.4 million in 2014 (up 12% in value over 2013) and 38,445 MT (up 27%), with benchmark products accounting for US$48.5 million and 37% of the total value.  Lobster (at US$38 million and down 7% in value from the year before) was the leading U.S. seafood export.  Surimi (at US$28.8 million, up 74%), tuna (at US$13.4 million, up 58%); whiting/hake (at US$10.4 million, down 28%); and cod (at US$10 million, down 30%) were other leading U.S. exports.  U.S. squid exports were valued at US$8.5 million (up 201%) and scallops were valued at US$1.1 million (up 4%).

American lobster is the leading U.S. seafood export to Spain.  While all varieties of shellfish enjoy seasonal high demand during the Christmas holiday period, lobster leads – traditionally boiled and served with homemade mayonnaise.  About 95% is imported with 70% of the supply coming from the U.S. and Canada.  Live (Homarus) lobster is also used as an ingredient in more expensive restaurant paellas and for special occasions, such as wedding banquets.  U.S. American lobster competes directly with Canadian American lobster for market share, as well as with local and foreign supplies of rock/spiny lobster.  Spain continues to offer good possibilities for exports of live U.S. lobsters, especially for affluent, urban consumers. 

Spain will exhibit growing demand for squid.  Imports already account for nearly 90% of Spain’s total supply and the local catch is expected to decline further in coming years.  The main competition to U.S. squid comes from well-established squid suppliers including: other EU countries, India, the Falkland Islands, China, and Morocco.   Frozen food processors, who also organize their own distribution, handle most of the trade.

According to Euromonitor, fish and seafood sales increased by 1% in total volume to reach 1.3 million MT in 2013. Total volume sales returned to positive growth after three consecutive years of decline.  Sales of crustaceans recorded the highest growth in 2013, up by 1% in total volume terms.  Fish and seafood was predicted to grow by 2% in total volume terms during 2014.  Sales of crustaceans, molluscs and cephalopods posted faster growth than fish in 2013 as a result of fish sales continuing to decline in the foodservice channel.  Dishes containing fish are often more expensive, while crustaceans and molluscs are commonly used in less expensive dishes such as tapas.

The modest growth recorded in 2013 appears to indicate a stabilization of seafood consumption after significant decreases (of 11%) over the past three years of economic turbulence. Having already made an adjustment to their purchasing frequency of fish and seafood, Spanish consumers once again purchased more fresh fish and seafood in 2013, further supported by a shift towards more home-cooking. According to Euromonitor, the move by leading supermarket chain Mercadona to expand the amount of selling space for fresh fish, either over the counter or through chilled cabinets, played a major role in reversing the previous trend of falling sales of fresh fish. Fresh fish also performed better than frozen fish in 2013.

Spain remains one of the largest per capita fish and seafood consumers among EU member countries.  Spaniards eat fish and seafood regularly, often several times a week, and many traditional and celebratory dishes include fish ingredients, for example paella.  The average seafood consumer profile is a person over 50, financially stable, and no longer supporting children.  According to FROM, the public authority which regulates Spanish fisheries and fish distribution, per capita consumption of fish in households with members over 65 years old is more than double the per capita consumption in dwellings with members under 50 years old.

Spanish consumers are increasingly health conscious.  Awareness for the health benefits associated with seafood consumption has increased after government campaigns to promote the health benefits of eating fish and the importance of the Mediterranean diet.  Fish and seafood consumption does differ greatly across the country, with coastal regions in northern Spain leading per capita consumption.  Regions with a higher percentage of elderly population - even inland areas - also rank high in per capita seafood consumption.  

Consumer demand for fresh fish is likely to rise, leading fresh fish to outperform raw frozen fish, as a result of the trend toward price discounting and the growing popularity of special deals from fishmongers.  In the retail sector the number of outlets continues to decrease as consolidation increases.  Five distribution groups now dominate more than half of total retail sales.  Traditional fishmongers continue to be the main retail distribution chain for fresh seafood, accounting for nearly half of all sales; supermarkets take 40% and hypermarkets share the rest.  Fresh food products, including seafood, are also distributed through a network of 22 "MERCAs" (public wholesale markets).

According to FAS, tourism continues to be the driving force of the Spanish recovery. During the first 10 months of 2014, Spain received 58.3 million international visitors, the highest figure ever, and they expect to close the year 2014 with at least 63 million visitors.  This represents a year-on-year increase of 7.5%, which will help boost seafood consumption through the HRI sector.

Factors/Issues Affecting U.S. Sales to Europe:

1. Domestic Production and Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)

A. Pressure on the EU fishing sector to institute major cutbacks in production and fishing is increasing as production declines.  According to figures from the European Commission, 80% of Mediterranean fish stocks, and 47% of Atlantic stocks are overfished.

B. The European Commission (EC) has proposed a new fund for the EU’s fisheries policy for 2014 through 2020. The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) will include a subsidy package of EUR 6.7 billion. The fund will be used to co-finance projects with member states. The total budget will be allocated to the states based on the importance of fisheries in each country. Each state draws up an operational program for the period, specifying how they intend to spend the money allocated to them. Once the EC approves this program, it is up to the states to decide the actual projects to be financed.

The fund will be a fundamental instrument for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. According to the EC, it will give fishermen the incentive to transition toward sustainable fishing. As pressure on fish stocks are relieved and given time to recover, communities dependent on fishing will need to find alternative sources of income. EMFF will help them find ways to add value to their catches and diversify their economy. EMFF will also support projects such as replacing fishing nets with more selective gear in order to reduce discards and the development of new technologies that could lower the impact of fishing and aquaculture on the environment.

C. Bilateral fisheries agreements between the EU and third countries establish the general framework for the access of EU fleets to the waters of these countries.  Each agreement includes a “Protocol” to establish specific conditions for its implementation.  The type of agreement varies in terms of the partner country.  Reciprocity agreements are usually concluded with Northern European countries and take the form of a straightforward exchange of fishing quotas in their respective waters.  With other countries (African, Indian Ocean and Greenland), which do not fully exploit their fishery resources, the EU concludes partnership agreements.  Under such agreements, the EU pays a financial contribution to access the third country’s fishing zone.  Vessel owners wishing to operate within the framework of these agreements have to pay a contribution.  Agreements have been concluded with Cape Verde, Comoros, Ivory Coast, Greenland, Guinea, Mauritania, Micronesia, Morocco, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Norway, Faroe Islands and Iceland.

In February 2013, the European Parliament passed a sweeping fishery policy reform bill that more closely mirrors how the U.S. manages fishery resources.  The law, which reformed the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), took effect in 2014. The Commission projects that an end to overfishing will enable fish stocks to recover by 2020, enabling harvesters to take 15 million metric tons more fish, which will create 37,000 new jobs. Among other reforms, the new CFP will oblige fishing vessels to land all catches in accordance with a schedule of specific dates for different fisheries, starting from 2014, in order to reduce discards. Starting in 2015, limits will be placed on quotas set by E.U. member states, preventing them from setting quotas that are too high to be sustainable and multi-year fish stock management plans will be developed to enable long-term planning.  

2.  Guide Prices 

Guide prices for domestic harvests are set annually according to the average prices registered over the previous three years in representative ports.  Market intervention mechanisms are activated when the prices of these products fall below a certain level.  Intervention measures include financial aid for withdrawing unsold products from the market and storing them until the market improves.

3. EU Import Duties

A. As a result of the near depletion of certain EU fishery stocks and the reduced annual catch quotas, the EU is becoming increasingly dependent on imports from third countries for its processing industry.  The overall average of EU duties for Chapters 3, 1604 and 1605 is 17.2%, one of the highest in the world. All EU fish tariffs were consolidated during the GATT agreement of the Tokyo Round.  Tariffs range from 0% (live eels) to 25% (canned mackerel, bonito and anchovies).  However, the EU provides different mechanisms to reduce duties and so it claims that its overall tariff average is then reduced to around 3 to 4%.  Duties for Food Export – Northeast benchmark products average 8.6% and range from a high of 15% on monkfish to 6% for squid. 

B. In March 2006, the EU published Council Regulation 711/2006, which establishes amended duty rates and new quotas for certain products to compensate the United States for tariff increases that the EU implemented as a result of enlargement.  The EU agreed to permanently reduce the tariffs on frozen fillets of hake (6.1% instead of 7.5%), frozen fillets of Alaska Pollack (14.2% instead of 15%) and surimi (14.2% instead of 15%).

4.  Trade Agreements

A. The EU has stipulated many trade agreements, particularly with least-developed and developing countries, granting those countries much lower tariff rates than those granted to the U.S.  Many of these countries are able to supply fish and seafood products at much lower costs.

B. In 2013, the EU and Canada negotiated a trade agreement that will negatively affect northeastern U.S. seafood suppliers by providing Canadian suppliers of like products with pricing advantages gained through the elimination of tariffs.

C. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a trade agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. Negotiations began in July 2013.  The TTIP will be an ambitious, comprehensive trade and investment agreement that will offer benefits to both sides, increasing trade, creating jobs and promoting international competitiveness.

5.  Veterinary Equivalence/Sanitary Controls

On March 10, 2006, the EU published a set of Decisions recognizing the U.S. seafood inspection system as equivalent as the European system. This recognition facilitates seafood trade between the U.S. and the EU as it removes technical barriers such as 100% controls at border inspection posts and restricted circulation of U.S. seafood products limited to the country of “first port of entry.”  Furthermore, it creates a harmonized framework under which member states no longer have the possibility to impose national requirements on U.S. seafood exporters (except for bivalve shellfish) that are in addition to EU legislation.  U.S. exporters still must be approved (either by USDC or the FDA) and registered by the FDA before exporting seafood to the EU. Once approved, U.S. exporters are included on the FDA list, which is updated every quarter. This FDA list is then sent to the EU for validation.  U.S. exporters must not send shipments to the EU before the EU list is published and is in force within the EU.

Each shipment of fishery products must be accompanied by a sanitary certificate following the model drawn up by Commission Decision 2006/199/EC.  In the United States, both the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Commerce (NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service) have the authority to issue public health certificates for export to the E.U.  A certificate may be issued for goods produced in different establishments, but can only be made to one consignee.  A certificate may be issued for several containers of the same product considered to be a single lot. U.S. exporters should pay specific attention to the fact that health certificates must be issued and signed before the shipment leaves the control of the competent authority of the country of dispatch.  Bills of lading must be dated after the issuance of the health certificate.

Fishery products imported from “harmonized” countries, such as the U.S., are subject to the documentary, identity and physical checks at the approved border inspection post at the first point of entry into the E.U. territory. When such a consignment satisfies E.U. requirements, it can be marketed freely in all EU member states.  When documentary and identity checks must be performed on all consignments, the frequency of physical checks is reduced. For products from “harmonized” countries the reduction is from a theoretical 100% to a theoretical 20% for fish products in hermetically sealed containers, for fresh and frozen fish, for dry and/or salted products, to 50% for other fishery products and for bivalve mollusks.  Each import control (one certificate = one control) is subject to inspection fees. 

Exporting Bivalves:  The European Commission Regulation allowing imports of farmed live and fresh molluscan bivalves from the United States expired on July 1, 2010 due to differences in equivalency standards. The ban also includes tunicates, marine gastropods and echinoderms.

France H/P Measures: France has separate and strict regulations for the importation of scallops, requiring that the H/P (natural moisture and protein content) ratio be less than 5.  This regulation limits U.S. exporters to supplying product to the market from a limited harvest window of only 3-4 months out of each year.  U.S. moisture content is too high during other periods of the year, simply by virtue of naturally differing species characteristics.  

Processed Seafood Products:  If a processed food contains animal products (surimi, for example), the European importer must have an “import license” from the Customs Authorities before the import process occurs. 

Border Inspections: European border inspection posts may randomly conduct specific analysis on shipment being presented to them for clearance.  These analyses can target residues, heavy metals or any other contaminants.  During these random tests, shipments may still be cleared and delivered to EU customers.  However, if the tests reveal any contamination, the U.S. establishment that sent the shipment in question will be put on “reinforced control status.”  This status is then communicated to all member states as well as to the European Commission through the Rapid Alert System.  When an establishment is on reinforced control status, its ten next consecutive shipments (that could be small shipments such as samples) to any country of the EU will be systematically tested.  The exporter may also choose to stop sending shipments to the EU for a three months period. This period is equivalent to the ten consecutive shipments rule. 

6. IUU (Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing)

To prevent imports of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, a catch certificate (instituted January 1, 2010) must accompany all seafood exports to the European Union. NOAA issues U.S. catch certificates.   

7.  Product Contaminants, Ingredients & Labeling

A.  Labeling laws introduced in 2002 require the labeling of seafood to ensure transparency and traceability to protect consumers.  Labels must indicate how the product was harvested (caught at sea, in inland waters or farmed) and information concerning the specific fishing area must be available to buyers. Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned that their food is not only safe and meeting their “quality” criteria, but that its production is also “eco-friendly.”  HRI and retail buyers increasingly have their own specialized quality seal and labeling programs and they may require introductory or periodic product promotion support to produce or grow brand loyalty.

B. Traceability of foodstuffs is a priority for European consumers and regulators and EU legislation has totally integrated traceability requirements in its general framework. These requirements became mandatory for all European food operators as of January 1, 2005.  Regulation 178/2002/EC in its Article 18 requires that traceability be established “at all stages of production, processing and distribution.”  The minimum lawfully binding obligation is the identification of the immediate supplier of the product in question and the immediate subsequent recipient, with the exemption of retailers to final consumers.  Consequently, European importers must incorporate a tracing system for all food products they import - not only from within the EU but also from third countries.  Food operators from third countries are not subject to this EU Regulation but traceability requirements affect them.

C. Commission Regulation 1881/2006, applicable March 1, 2007, outlines maximum levels for lead, cadmium, mercury and dioxins in fishery products. 

D. The monitoring of residues of veterinary drugs and other chemicals in animals and animal products is addressed in Council Directive 96/23/EC.  Third countries must submit residue-monitoring plans.  For aquaculture, the United States is included in the list established by Commission Decision 2006/208/EC on the approval of reside-monitoring plans submitted by third countries.

E. Beginning December 13, 2014, it became mandatory to state the gear type used in wild capture fisheries and to provide a more detailed indication of catch area on fishery product marking and labeling in the EU.  Fishery and aquaculture products and their packaging labeled, or marked, prior to that date and which do not comply with these requirements, may be marketed until sold. 


Marketing opportunities for U.S. seafood products will continue to increase due to dwindling EU stocks, strong consumer demand for seafood products, and as marketing/distribution systems become further refined.  Within the major markets of Italy, France and Spain, seafood companies are increasingly consolidating and becoming more geographically concentrated. For example, most Italian fish traders are concentrated in northern Italy - in Milan, Genoa and Venice.  Spanish companies are concentrated in Vigo, Barcelona and Madrid.  Major French firms are concentrated in Paris, Boulogne-Sur-Mer and Lorient.

Importers play a crucial role in deciding what to import and from where.  Large importers sell directly to modern distribution chains, to wholesalers and to the HRI sector.  Large importers cover the whole country while midsize and smaller importers cover a specific area.   Some importers are also becoming processors due to the fact that customers expect at least basic preparation (such as portioning, cleaning, etc.).  Some large processors (canners, smokers and manufacturers of prepared meals) also import frozen seafood directly.

Some wholesalers operate through wholesale fish markets while others operate outside this system.  Larger wholesalers and importers have developed strong alliances with selected producers, traders and foreign suppliers so they are less dependent on the traditional wholesale market.  In Italy and Spain, a number of agents and brokers (local and foreign) are also very active in providing their customers (wholesalers, industry processors and seafood importers) with large quantities of seafood products.  In Italy, there are about 150 cold stores and these have helped to increase the availability of frozen seafood on the market.  These private networks of importers and wholesalers distribute more than 95% of all frozen seafood products.

Overall, the EU HRI sector is quite complex and disaggregated.  Only very large chains have a central purchasing office.  Foodservice companies often rely on their suppliers for product selection.  U.S. exporters must focus on working with the importers and distributors that supply this sector in order to compete against other more dominant EU suppliers.  The growth of chain hotels, restaurants and institutional catering companies is accelerating.  Consumers and foodservice operators are increasingly buying frozen and value-added products, such as fillets and portions. 

A growing share of seafood consumed in Europe passes through major retailers, though somewhat less so in southern Europe, and a growing share of retail sales are products purchased directly from suppliers.  Large retailers may source products from buying groups to increase their leverage when dealing with suppliers. Although buying groups are mainly the precinct of large chain food retailers, independent retailers have begun to understand their value.

Foodservice and retail buyers are looking for seafood products and while many are price conscious, they also want products that save time, or labor costs, like portions and fillets, and they want information and assurances on food safety, consistency of quality and sustainability of supply.  National and international chains are strong, with more and more units being placed in geographical areas where seafood consumption was previously very low, leading to a better overall diffusion of seafood products and consequently increased consumption.

As the role of these large distribution chains increases, they will require greater varieties of seafood and value-added items, in specialized and portion control packaging, to meet changing family structures.  They will also increasingly depend on developing long-term relationships directly with suppliers that are based on quality and reliability.


View Calendar

Natural & Organic Products Europe
April 22-23, 2018
London, United Kingdom

June 12-14, 2018
Nuremberg, Germany

EXPHORE - Expo Hoteles y Restaurantes
June 23-14, 2018
Belen, Costa Rica

June 27-30, 2018
Taipei, Taiwan

View Calendar

Export Intelligence Video Series -Hong Kong

See more videos