Spend Matters welcomes another guest post from Mark Kozlowski of Mintec.
Fish meal is a globally traded commodity principally used as feed for shrimp, salmon, and other farmed fish. Despite fish meal in the US being mainly used as feed for pigs and chickens, global fish meal prices still affect the price of fish in the US. That’s because over 90 percent of fish consumed in the US is imported, of which roughly half is farmed.
The price of fish meal has increased sharply since the beginning of June and could be set to rise further as the world prepares for a possible El Niño.
In the US fish meal is made from two main sources: the whole remains of a fish called the Menhaden, a small oily fish used exclusively for fish meal and oil production, and trimmings from Alaska pollock. Total US fish meal production is approximately 340,000 tons per year, making it the fifth largest producer globally. Approximately 250,000 tons are used domestically and the rest exported, making the US the fourth largest global exporter. The fish meal industry is truly global and it is thought that the average distance fish meal is transported between production and end use is 5,000 miles. Consequently, issues affecting one major producer can also affect prices of other producers.
The largest global producer of fish meal is Peru, with 25 percent of global production and the majority exported, making it the largest global exporter. Most of Peruvian fish meal comes from a species known as the anchoveta. The Peruvian anchoveta fishery is highly susceptible to El Niño conditions, when an upwelling of cold nutrient rich water off the coast of South America known as the Humboldt Current is disrupted. This leads to a reduction in the amount of plankton available as food for the anchoveta, which leads to a smaller number of fish and lower catches.
Since April the coast of Peru has seen warmer sea temperatures, leading many to forecast the onset of El Niño conditions before the end of the year. These warmer temperatures also led to the Peruvian authorities opening the first fishing season of the year early to try and increase catch levels. Even so the catch levels are reported to be low. Lower volumes of anchoveta in Peru will lead to a fall in fish meal production and higher prices. As feed is the largest cost for the production of many farmed fish, high prices of fish meal can lead to higher prices of farmed fish and prawns.
However, in recent weeks the recorded sea temperatures are slightly cooler softening the severity of a potential El Niño and possibly reducing the effect on the global food industry.