Bivalve trade heavily impacted by COVID-19

The complete closing of the restaurant trade all over Europe has led to the disappearance of normal demand for fresh and alive bivalves. Prices are low, and aquaculture companies are closing down, waiting for government support in order to survive.


Although restaurants in France are now open with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in June, social distancing measures and a lower concentration of clients per square metre resulted in a significant drop in revenue. Consequently, demand for the foodservice sector also dropped. Mussels are among the fishery products most impacted by these restrictions.

Trade of mussels during the first three months of 2020 declined slightly when compared with the same period of last year. France imported almost 4 000 tonnes less during this period, a 22 percent decline from 2019. Despite this decline, the country continued to be the main mussel importing country in the world. Meanwhile, Italy recorded a 7 percent decline. Both countries were heavily hit by COVID-19 during the starting months of the year, which is reflected in these declines. The United States of America was the only main player among mussel importers reporting increased imports in the first quarter of 2020. However, this will unlikely be the case during the second quarter of the year, due to lockdown orders in various US states.


The lockdown in Italy has had an interesting effect on the clam fisheries. For instance, clam fishers in the Venetian area, one of the main clam producing areas in the country, will receive compensation for lockdown measures of EUR 800 million. On the other hand, clam resources expanded rapidly during the lockdown period. Clam fishers in the Adriatic were able to fill their boats with large clams within a couple of hours, while normally the fishing trips can last eight or more hours. Prices of clams are about 20 percent lower than last year’s price level.

Trade in clams is mainly an Asian affair, with Japan and the Republic of Korea as main markets, and China as main exporter. Meanwhile, clams produced in Europe mainly stay in the producing countries. Trade of clams slowed down in the first quarter of the year, but this slowdown was still less than what was experienced for other bivalves. Overall trade was 10 percent lower than in 2019, with Japan and the Republic of Korea reporting slight declines. As both countries have been very successful in fighting the COVID-19 outbreak, it is likely that clam trade will fully recover in the second quarter of the year.


Scallop trade was also affected by the overall emergency created by COVID-19. In the first three months of the year, trade was 15 percent lower than during the same period of 2019. China, which used to be the main importing country, reported a 45 percent decrease of its imports during this period. The United States of America, reporting stable scallop imports, managed to overtake China as the main scallop importer in 2020. It is likely that the second quarter of the year has seen a reversal of this trend, as China is recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, while the United States of America entered the main lockdown period only in April. Peru, which had reported a good recovery of its scallop production and exports, reported a 15 percent decline of exports in the first three months of 2020 when compared with the same period of 2019. Further declines are expected during the second quarter, as Peru has been one of the Latin American countries hardest hit by the pandemic during this period.


Oyster sales are reported to be very slow as older generations remain at home and consumers are less interested in luxury food items. This has had a very negative impact on French growers given that norovirus problems at the end of 2019 had already negatively affected sales. Oysters are considered a festivity product, however there is little intention by consumers to have luxury products, due to the economic uncertainty. Tourists in the main coastal areas will be mostly from the domestic area, which means that in France, consumers from Paris and other major cities are expected to enjoy oysters on the coast. But in general, summer months are not a main period of live oyster consumption.


The gross domestic product in southern Europe is projected to decline by more than 10 percent in 2020, and demand for bivalves will remain depressed. The normal tourist season in summer months will not materialize, leading to very low bivalve consumption, likely only 10 to 20 percent of normal consumption during these months. Despite these rather bleak forecasts, the emergency moment of COVID-19 seems to be over, at least in Europe, so it is likely that demand for bivalves will return to normal by the end of the year.