International Demand for Tilapia Steady

International demand for tilapia steady, though US market weak with discouraging prices

During the first half of 2017, approximately 170 000 tonnes of tilapia (whole, fillets and breaded) entered the international market. While the United States of America grapples with a weak market, the EU28 market is recovering somewhat, although prices remain weak. Asian and Latin American markets continue to be strong as production increasingly stays within their own domestic markets in addition to imports from China.


Chinese companies are continuing to seek opportunities to expand into African markets to target the potential and growing demand for tilapia there. They are also seeking to find alternative markets with declining demand in their main market, the USA. Prices in the US market have been decreasing to reach record lows, making trading unprofitable amidst high ex-farm prices. In spite of the slowdown in the US market, total exports of Chinese frozen tilapia continued to post positive growth, with a 7.6 percent increase in exports during the first half of 2017 compared with the same time period a year ago. Growth in exports was almost entirely from the whole frozen tilapia and frozen breaded fillet categories, posting increases of +12 percent and +23 percent respectively. Frozen whole and frozen fillets account for 35 percent of Chinese tilapia exports. Approximately 70 percent of whole frozen tilapia from China entered African markets during the review period.

United States of America

During the first half of 2017, total imports of frozen tilapia fillets into the USA fell by 15 percent when compared with the same period of 2016. Despite this decline, the USA still represents 70 percent of the tilapia market. Fresh tilapia fillet imports increased by 3 percent. In terms of pricing, wholesale prices for fresh chilled tilapia fillets (3–5 oz per lb) from Latin America have declined by 9.4 percent to USD 3.58 per lb, while prices of frozen fillets (3–5 oz per lb) from Asia strengthened by 2.6 percent to USD 1.95 per lb. China continues as the main supplier of tilapia to the US market. Industry sources in Latin America indicate that negative press about tilapia from Asia has contributed to the declining Latin American demand and likely prompted more interest in fresh tilapia fillets from neighbouring countries.

Latin America

Latin America is on alert following the warning by FAO about the Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV), with cases confirmed in both Colombia and Ecuador. TiLV is contagious and can be spread in both farmed and wild tilapia. Importing countries were urged to take measures, including requiring health certificates and undertaking public information campaigns to help tilapia farmers. The Ecuadorian Aquaculture Chamber and the National Fisheries Institute reported that there have been no mortality situations in tilapia farms at the national level, but they will continue with preventative measures. Ecuador exported 745 tonnes to the USA during the first six months of the year, with a total value of USD 4.1 million, representing a 35 percent decline both in terms of value and volume. Honduras continues to be the main Latin American supplier of tilapia fillets to the US market, having surpassed Ecuador and Costa Rica in 2014. During the first half of 2017, exports of tilapia fillets totalled 4 400 tonnes worth USD 25.6 million, demonstrating declines of 12 percent and 19 percent respectively compared with the same time period last year.


As one of the main producers of tilapia, Brazil has a very different market orientation compared with its Latin American counterparts, as 99 percent of its national production is consumed domestically. The strong growth of internal consumption coupled with the difficulties of exporting make the domestic market the best choice for the Brazilian tilapia industry, with only 0.5 percent of the national production exported, all to the United States of America. However, with the US dollar appreciating against the Brazilian real during the past two years, the search for international markets for tilapia has been incentivized. In order for this to occur, however, exporting challenges, related to documentary requirements, sanitary quality and mandatory inspection services will have to be addressed.

European Union

The EU28 market appears to be showing some signs of recovery with a 4.7 percent increase in total tilapia imports during the first half of 2017 to reach 12 900 tonnes. This growth was encouraged by the lower average import prices, falling by 5.8 percent to reach USD 3.19 per kg. Imports of both whole frozen and frozen fillets increased, with the latter accounting for 57 percent of total tilapia imports. Imports increased from China, Thailand and Malaysia.

Asia and other markets

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation have emerged as important markets for tilapia, with the former now the fourth largest market and the Russian Federation the fifth. During the review period, the Islamic Republic of Iran imported 6 200 tonnes of frozen fillets and the Russian Federation 3 200 tonnes, with China as the leading supplier. Being the largest supply source of tilapia, Asia exported approximately 145 000 tonnes of tilapia; a 3.8 percent decline from the same period in 2016 as more supplies were directed to domestic markets. Approximately 55 percent of Asia’s total exports were comprised of frozen fillets and 45 percent of whole frozen. The top five producers in the region are China, Indonesia, Taiwan Province of China, Thailand and Malaysia. Exports of whole frozen tilapia increased by 5 300 tonnes while frozen fillet exports were down by 11 000 tonnes during the review period.

Meanwhile, Viet Nam is trying to increase its supply of tilapia with the Prime Minister recently announcing plans to achieve 6 percent growth in aquaculture with an export value of USD 9 billion by 2020. The largest market for tilapia from Viet Nam is the United States of America, France, Spain, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea.


The report analyses the market situation until June 2017

© FAO 2017
Dec 19, 2017

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