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Tilapia production faces challenges, positive trade outlook

Despite the slowdown faced by major tilapia producers worldwide, overall tilapia supply remains stable and the market outlook is positive, the FAO reported.

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January 8, 2024

Despite lower-than-expected production levels by major tilapia suppliers including China, Egypt, and certain Latin American countries, global trade volumes remained stable in the first half of 2023, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Producers have struggled with high costs, limited availability of inputs and demand instability. Export prices to major markets were significantly lower in the first half of the year compared to the same period of 2022, although there has been some recovery in the first half of 2023.


While global tilapia production may struggle to maintain its anticipated growth rate in the coming months, there is still a positive expectation for overall tilapia production. Major producers such as China, Egypt and certain Latin American countries are facing challenges, but they continue to maintain steady production. Additionally, tilapia aquaculture producers in Southeast and South Asia, including Indonesia and Thailand, are increasing their supply, contributing to a positive outlook for the tilapia industry.

In the first half of 2023, China maintained its position as the largest global supplier of tilapia. The rate of production growth has slowed down due to prolonged losses resulting from declining stocking rates and rising feed costs. Typhoon weather this summer are likely to have further impacted the tilapia production sector, particularly affecting producers in Guangdong province, a major production area in China. As a result, the tilapia industry in China is anticipated to experience a slowdown in production growth and a likely decline in the upcoming months. Elsewhere in Asia, Indonesia is the second-largest tilapia producer, but most of its supply is currently focused on the domestic market. With government support, there are plans to expand exports. In the first half of 2023, Indonesia exported 4,700 tonnes of frozen fillets of tilapia, indicating a positive outlook for increased global market presence.

Egypt stands as the leading tilapia producer in Africa and the third-major producer globally, with a target of exceeding 3 million tonnes of tilapia production by 2025. However, the country is currently grappling with challenges such as soaring inflation, a shortage of foreign currency, and a subsequent increase in feed costs. The economic crisis has greatly impacted Egypt's seafood sector, causing instability and uncertainty within the country’s tilapia industry. The majority of Egypt’s production is destined for the domestic market, and it is by far the most common fish consumed in the country.

Colombian tilapia production is expected to decrease by 5% year-on-year, amounting to 120,000 tonnes, due to a recent disease outbreak. To combat the spread of the disease, producers are implementing rigorous biosecurity protocols, such as limiting genetic material transportation and enforcing visitor protocols. These measures, along with vaccinations, aim to protect the tilapia industry and prevent future disease outbreaks.

Market and trade

Tilapia appeals to consumers due to its affordability. China, the major supplier in the global market, is seeing increasing demand from African countries and several European markets. Overall, China’s tilapia exports to the United States reached 57,689 tonnes worth USD 165.2 million in the first half of 2023, reflecting a 1.6% decrease in volume and a 21% decrease in value compared to the same period in 2022. However, there is positive news in trade between China and the United States concerning frozen whole tilapia, with a substantial 28% year-on-year increase in volume. Furthermore, other markets such as Côte d'Ivoire, Denmark, Turkey and Malaysia have also witnessed significant growth in their frozen whole tilapia purchases from China, with volume increases of 56%, 244%, 103% and 163%, respectively.

Due to rising inflation rates and food prices, the US import market for tilapia has weakened in the first half of 2023. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), total US tilapia imports in the first half of 2023 amounted to 86,500 tonnes valued at USD 326 million, representing a 7% decrease in volume and a 15% decrease in value compared to the same period last year.

During the first half of 2023, Brazilian tilapia exports were kept low due to the impact of disease outbreaks. According to the Brazilian Fisheries Association (PEIXE BR), Brazil's tilapia exports between January–June 2023 amounted to 3,319 tonnes valued at USD 11.1 million. This represents a 32% decrease in volume and a 21% decrease in value compared to the same period last year. The decline in exports was primarily due to a significant decrease in shipments of whole frozen tilapia.

The U.S. and Japan emerged as the key markets for Latin American tilapia. The US market accounted for 79% of Brazilian tilapia exports and 92% of Colombian exports. The latter are rising, with a year-on-year increase of 18%. Japan emerged as the second-largest market for Brazilian tilapia exports in terms of value, with 961 tonnes worth USD 317,307. Despite a significant volume drop of 46%, there was a remarkable 174% year-on-year increase in value due to its higher demand for high-quality tilapia, particularly for sushi consumption in restaurants, and an overall increase in price.


The Chinese tilapia market has experienced a decline in the second quarter of 2023 compared to the price fluctuations of the past year. During April to June 2023, whole live tilapia of size 300-500g in Guangdong province (DAP, Guangdong) was sold at CNY 5.98 (USD 0.85) per kg, reflecting an 8% decrease from the previous quarter and a 26% decrease year-on-year. Import prices in the U.S for frozen fillets decreased 21%, while fresh fillets increased 7% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2023. In Brazil, fresh tilapia fillets achieved the highest average FOB price in the second quarter of the year at USD 6.63 per kg, surpassing the price of frozen fillets at USD 6.47 per kg.


Despite the slowdown faced by major tilapia producers worldwide, attributed to rising input costs and a sluggish labor market, overall tilapia supply remains stable and the market outlook is positive. With major suppliers such as China and Egypt experiencing stagnant supply, Brazil and other countries are seizing the chance to gain market shares and actively seeking opportunities to enhance their presence in the global market. This potential shift highlights the industry's adaptability and competitiveness in responding to evolving market dynamics.