Brown crab: COVID-19 impact on the supply chain

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By Milthon Lujan

EUMOFA is pleased to announce the publication of a new study: “Brown crab: Covid-19 impact on the supply chain”. This study aims to provide an understanding of the brown crab (Cancer pagurus) supply chain to give insight in the status of the sector both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study details how brown crab stakeholders were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and their responses. The supporting data is based on publicly available sources including EUMOFA and FAO, as well as interviews with stakeholders in France, Ireland, Norway, and the UK.

Brown crab, also known as edible crab, is a benthic species living at depths of 6 to 100 metres in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, from northern Morocco to the Atlantic coast of Europe, the British Isles, and northern Norway. In 2019, according to FAO, the total catch was 50.480 tonnes. Since 2010, the four major catching nations France, Ireland, Norway, and the UK have supplied 94% of total catches.

Brown crab may be sold live or processed into a range of products including boiled whole (sold chilled or frozen), crab meat, or other value-added items. Brown crab is the most consumed crab species in Europe and based on trade data the primary consumption markets are France, Spain, Portugal, and Norway. An increasing demand from China is also observed.

The COVID-19 pandemic represented a shock for the brown crab sector in 2020. The pandemic hit stakeholders differently depending on their business model. Processors who had diversified sales to retail in addition to the HoReCa sector were better equipped to continue sales when the latter market outlet disappeared. Building inventory and postponing sales was also an advantageous strategy for those who had access to storage facilities and the necessary liquidity.

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The study shows that the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic differed between nations. In the UK, many fishers refrained from fishing crab as prices were too low to cover costs. Norwegian and French crab fishers however were shielded from the full impact of the pandemic as the largest Norwegian processor continued buying crab from fishers, while in France demand during the peak season remained consistent.

In addition to the pandemic, restrictions on live brown crab exports to China due to a strict cadmium testing regime continues to affect the sector. Market access has been reduced for all exporters, except those catching and exporting from the Netherlands.

Reference (open access):
EUMOFA. 2021. Brown crab. COVID-19 impact on the supply chain. 32 p. 

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