Seafood exports have hit a new high.
The strong export showing of the seafood sector in 2015 has accelerated in the first quarter of this year.
Export returns for the 12 months to end March were a record $1.713 billion, according to Statistics New Zealand.
This is an 11.4 percent increase on the previous year and an $80 million increase on the previous high of $1.63 billion in calendar year 2015.
Month on month growth of 18 percent in January over the previous year was even higher at 23 percent in March.
The strongest value growth is coming from exports of frozen fin fish.
Rock lobster, orange roughy, fish meal and mussels are also returning increased prices.
China remains by far the most important market, accounting for nearly one third of total seafood export value. The average per kilo value for highly prized lobsters is up 6 percent this year. The China demand, particularly around its new year, has cemented rock lobster as New Zealand’s most lucrative export species, returning $305 million in 2015.
Mussels came next at $224 million, followed by hoki at $209 million and then, in order of value, jack mackerel, orange roughy, ling, salmon, squid and paua.
The second most valuable market is Australia and then follows the US, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Spain, France, Germany and Thailand.
Exports of half-shell greenshell mussels have continued to increase this year and per kilo returns are up nine percent.
The first major exports of squid for the 2015-16 season were shipped in March and are well ahead of the previous year’s total. Catch reports for the season point to this being one of the best in several years. At the same time the seasonally competing squid season in the south-east Atlantic is showing poor catch returns.
The orange roughy market in China has grown from virtually nothing several years ago to $26 million in 2015, overtaking the US.
Fish of a particular size and colour are highly sought after for presentation at banquets.
The fact a wide variety of species across a range of markets are in demand and consequently attracting increased returns bodes well for the medium and long term outlook for the seafood sector.
This is underpinned by a well managed wild fishery and an expanding aquaculture sector.
The Quota Management System, now in its 30th year, has ensured stocks are sustainably managed.
The latest Status of New Zealand Fisheries report published by the Ministry for Primary Industries found 83 percent of individual fish stocks of known status and almost 97 percent of landings are above or well above levels where their sustainability would be a cause for concern.
And where a stock is thought to be under stress, it is often industry that takes the lead in adjusting the catch accordingly, just as a farmer alters stocking rates according to available feed.
Our fisheries are in good heart and the well established, world’s best practice management system in place should ensure that remains the case for generations to come.
Discerning consumers around the world are increasingly looking for high quality, sustainably harvested seafood and are prepared to pay a premium for that.
It is a happy situation that the New Zealand seafood industry sits squarely in that niche.