South Korean Seafood Imports Experience Their Worst April Since 2012 as Alaska Pollock Imports Decline and Prices Surge to Record

Frozen Whole Pacific Salmon
Published May 23, 2023
South Korean seafood imports (of HS Code 03) experienced this year their lowest April volume since 2012. Alaska pollock imports suffered a sharp decline despite a lower import price. Moreover, most other products experienced a steep increase in their import prices, contributing to the lower demand.

South Korean imports of fish and crustaceans, mollusks, and other aquatic products (HS Code 03 products) experienced their lowest April volume since 2012 this year, with a total of 95.97 thousand mt. This represents a decline of 37% YoY.

Source: Tridge and Korea Customs

The decline coincided with a surge in the average unitary value, at 5.13/kg, representing an increase of 22% YoY. This is the highest level on record in a month.

Source: Tridge and Korea Customs

The sub-product which contributed the most to the volume decline and the average unitary value surge was frozen whole fish (HS Code 0303). The total import volume of these products this April was 48.67 thousand mt, down 50% from the same month last year. Meanwhile, the average unitary value for these products was $2.40/kg, up by 30% YoY.

Among the specific products, Alaska pollock imports experienced the largest decline, down by 77% YoY (-36.7 thousand mt) to 10.7 thousand mt. However, the decline in import volume for this product didn’t correspond to a price increase, as it suffered a 9% YoY decline in its average unitary value, at $1.03/kg. Oversupply remains in the market after the sharp increase in demand experienced in 2022. Last year, the import volume of this product was 76% above their 5-year average, helped by lower prices in the first months of the year and changing trade flows following the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The bulk of this product corresponds to Russian exports. Russia began redirecting more seafood to Korea since Q4 2021 as Chinese demand was subdued due to pandemic restraints. After the Russia-Ukraine conflict started, Russia’s pollock exports to Korea soared, averaging a 199% YoY growth from February through July. Current low prices might help encourage a bounce in demand in the upcoming months.

Nonetheless, other products which contributed to the decline in volume experienced a notable increase in their average unitary value. These products include pacific salmon (pink salmon, chum salmon, and others), of which imports declined by 79% YoY (-5.9 thousand mt) to 1.56 thousand mt. Its unitary value rose by 82% YoY to $5.59/kg. Global salmon prices reached record or multi-decade highs during Q1 2023 on the back of lower supply.

Similarly, sardine imports experienced a sharp decline of 64% YoY (-3.9 thousand mt) to 2.24 thousand mt, while its average unitary value rose 7% YoY to $0.48/kg. Sardine prices have risen amid declining supply.

Meanwhile, imports of non-specified frozen fish products (HS Code 030389), which makes up the largest import volume among frozen whole fish, declined by 13% YoY and also experienced a notable price surge of 29% YoY.

Moving forward, current high seafood prices might trigger a substitution effect favoring cheaper protein or products which are seeing sharp price declines, such as beef. When this happens, seafood price hikes might slow down and revive demand. For frozen whole fish products in particular, according to their seasonality, prices are expected to ease considerably until October, after which holiday demand begins to exert upward pressure. 

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