Argentina Squid Prices Skyrocket

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Michael Liberty, market analyst at Mintec. 

Squid prices in Argentina, a major supplier to the U.S., have surged 107% this year due to low catches, which in turn can be blamed on El Niño conditions from the end of 2015 and early 2016. In addition, high calamari demand in the U.S. has also added upward pressure to prices.

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The 2015/16 El Niño was one of the strongest ever on record. El Niño is characterised by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean. During the peak of the 2015/16 El Niño, seawater temperatures reached near 36.5 degrees F (2.5 degrees C), which was great for beach goers, but less so for the squid fisheries.

With the change in seawater temperatures, squids migrated to cooler waters. This saw a drop in catches in Argentina, which fell to the lowest level in 20 years between January and September 2016, down 55% at 57,500 tons compared with the same period last year. El Niño conditions also affected the nearby Falkland Islands, where catches crashed 99% year-on-year to 2,000 tons between January and September. In addition, top producer China, who can also fish in Argentinian waters, has reported a decline.

The decline in catch in Argentina has made a large global impact, especially on China, which has the largest squid processing capacity in the world. China typically imports whole squid from Argentina for processing into squid rings for the U.S. market. In the U.S., these rings are often fried as calamari, which is preferred by U.S. consumers.

Demand in the U.S. has been relatively unaffected by the increase in export prices, with imports only slightly behind last year’s level due to lower availability. U.S. squid imports were down 3% year-on-year at 52,200 tons between January and September, while the value of imports rose 13% year-on-year to $211 million.

However, with the end of 2016 in sight, the prospect that catches could improve next year has strengthened recently. The graph below shows the Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly (SSTA) for Niño region 3.4 of the coast of South America. The SSTA compares temperatures in a given month to the long-term average of that month. From the graph, we can see that ocean temperatures in the El Niño regions have cooled significantly, with anomalies dropping to 30.7 degrees F (-0.7 degrees C) during October. With the Argentinian fishing season kicking off in February, this could help increase squid numbers next year.

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