Despite recent slowdowns in the market, resulting from food import embargos imposed in 2014, there are still some great reasons for optimism in Russian fish & seafood market

A number of opportunities have become available for foreign firms – not just in the supplying products for consumption but the industry as a whole.

Fish & seafood in Russia: your guide to the market

Market overview

Over the past two years, consumption of fish and seafood amongst Russians has dropped. This is mainly due to the nation’s fluctuating economic state. Historically, however, the market has been robust and healthy.

Russia amongst the top 20 seafood importers in the world. In 2014, for example, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), reported that Russia imported 885,000 tons of seafood and fish products worth $2.9 billion. When broken down into product categories, Russian fish and seafood imports showed the following split, according to the USDA:

  • 50% frozen fish
  • 14.6% ready to eat/canned fish products
  • 14.2% fish fillets and other fish meat
  • 10% crustaceans and mollusks
  • 9.7% fresh and chilled fish

Average consumption of fish and seafood stands at around 22 kilogram per person.

Where does Russia import its fish & seafood from? Prior to 2014 embargo, Norway had been Russia’s leading supplier of seafood products, with a 19% market share. China followed with a 14% share with Chile being the previous third biggest supplier with a 13.5% share of Russian fish imports. However, with Norway subject to food import bans and Chile’s salmon sector being rocked by a devastating toxic algae bloom, Russia is keen to look for alternative suppliers. Many South American countries, including Peru, Argentina and Ecuador, have all increased their shipments of seafood to Russia.

South Africa, a country that had previously halted seafood exports to Russia in the late 1990s, has subsequently restarted its deliveries to Russian markets. South African company Sea-Harvest, for example, has stated that it ships around 500 tons of seafood products, worth around $3.5 million, to Russia each year.

The Faroe Islands has doubled its Russian fish exports. Deliveries from the small island nation totalled 20,000 tons in 2015. Given Norway’s previous shipment levels stood at around 60,000, the Faroe Islands’ efforts are particularly impressive. This goes to show the opportunities for foreign firms as Russia looks to alternative nations to satiate its fish requirements.

Turkey was also a major supplier of agro products on the Russian market. However, given the food bans in place, Russia has engaged with other seafood producing nations in the same region to replace Turkish offerings. Iran exported over 1,000 tons of fishery goods to Russia in 2015, and in May 2016 announced it would begin delivering fish via a dedicated air freight service.

South-East Asia is also very much a focus for Russian importers. Vietnamese and Indonesian producers have either expanded operations or signed memorandums of cooperation with Rosselkhoznadzor, the Russian body responsible for overseeing the quality of food imports, to increase delivery levels. This only goes to show how sourcing top quality seafood is a global concern for Russian importers — especially given the absence of traditional suppliers. As such, a greater variety of opportunities have been presented for producers as a gap in the fish and seafood market needs plugging in Russia.

What fish & seafood products are in demand? Salmon is the most popular seafood product amongst Russian consumers. Prior to food bans being enacted, Norwegian producers were shipping roughly $533 million of salmon to Russia each year. However, global supplies of salmon are unreliable in current market conditions. There remains a healthy demand for other species, such as trout, herring, shrimp and prawns, mussels and so on.

Whole Atlantic mackerel has seen an increase in demand as the sanctions remain implace. According to Markos Seafood Intelligence, Russians are eating more mackerel due to its lower market price. It was reported by Undercurrent News in May 2016 Vietnamese producers are also increasing their supplies of pangasius to Russia. Vietnam’s biggest pangasius producers, Hung Vuong, also announced they would be moving into Russia by purchasing a 51% stake of Russian Fish Joint Stock Company to improve the levels and quality of Alaskan Pollock in Russia.

As outlined earlier in this article, nearly half of all seafood products in demand by Russian consumers are frozen. What other opportunities are there in the Russian fish & seafood industry? Physical products, ready for processing or consumption, is not the only area where foreign firms can expand into the Russian fish & seafood industry. A number of quota-driven initiatives to step up domestic production levels has created space for investment in fishery and aquaculture as a whole. As such, international companies are being sought out for the latest technological innovations and expertise to shore up Russian domestic efforts.

Aquaculture in Russia, for example, will enjoy a 260 million ($3.9 million) rouble cash injection to boost research and development it was announced in April 2016. Aquaculture is expected to account for 62% of all seafood supplies by 2020. While other countries are increasing their efforts, 20% of Europe’s fish production is farmed via aquaculture for example, Russia is being held back. A lack of available fish feed production facilities means domestic supply cannot match demand, which stands at around 250,000 tons annually. Only a handful of the existing feed-producing facilities have been renovated with modern technology meaning there are big opportunities in Russia for advanced fish feed production equipment.

Indeed, Russia’s government has expressed a big desire to collaborate with international experts in a number of fish production fields in order to meet domestic quotas. In May 2016, Iran’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Hassan Salehi, stated that the two nations were to jointly invest in fisheries and associated infrastructure. There remains a space in the industry to supply top quality equipment, and the skills to develop Russia’s internal fishery industries, that can be filled by international businesses.

Norwegian firm Akvaplan-niva, for example, has worked with a variety of Russian firms, such as Kivach, to develop aquaculture in the country — and there exists the space for other foreign companies to supply, educate and develop Russian seafood production. A number of regions across Russia are hoping to develop their nascent fish production activities.

While the vast majority of Russian seafood harvesting and production takes place in the Far East, the industry is growing in the West. St. Petersburg, and the surrounding Leningrad region, in particular is seeing an increase in the number of companies engaged in seafood production. The number of fish processing and farming production companies has increased. Around 30-40 firms operate in the area. To meet self-sufficiency targets, plans to invest in 100 sets of aquaculture equipment, to be rented out to local Leningrad firms, are underway — and offer big opportunities for manufacturers of top quality farming and processing solutions.