Seafood annual export earnings are expected to crack the $2 billion mark this year.

A forecast 6.5 percent increase in earnings will push seafood returns to $2.1 billion in the year to June, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries’ December Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries.

The milestone is a fantastic vote of confidence for the sector, Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said.

“This growth is expected to be underpinned by an increase in export prices and rising aquaculture production,” the review said.

“Increasing demand from key markets along with limited supply growth, particularly of wild capture fisheries, is expected to keep prices high.

“The forecast growth in aquaculture production is expected to result in higher export volumes in the coming years.”

The overall outlook for New Zealand Inc is equally positive, with total export revenue forecast to reach $47.9 billion, lead by dairy, up 3.3 percent on the previous year.

Seafood has benefitted from strong prices in key markets.

Over the past four years, earnings have increased by 9 percent annually in China and Europe, 7 percent in the US and 2 percent in Australia and Japan.

“Given the strong demand along with limited global supply of seafood, particularly of wild capture production, prices are expected to remain strong during the forecast period.”

Squid has been a standout, increasing by an average of 34 percent per year over the past five years, returning $200 million in the year to June 2019.

Salmon has also performed strongly.

The Government’s recently released aquaculture strategy has a goal of $3 billion in annual sales by 2035.

Seafood consumption is likely to increase in the next five years, according to a separate study.

That is according to a major survey across five countries – New Zealand, Australia, US, China and Japan – conducted by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ economic intelligence unit.

The survey of 6200 consumers found China would show the biggest increase in seafood demand, representing an export opportunity for New Zealand fisheries.

In the domestic market seafood is a key staple for many New Zealanders.

Ninety one percent purchased seafood and two in five bought seafood at least once a week.

Supermarkets and grocery stores are the dominant retail channel.

The provision of information at the point of purchase is the preferred means of guiding buying decisions, followed by the internet and family and friends.

Quality is the leading factor when purchasing seafood.

Sustainability factors, such as capture methods or ethical considerations, were rated as less important than quality and price.

Insights were also sought from 16 New Zealand chefs and restaurant owners.

They also rated quality as number one and supported sustainable fishing, whereas price was the least important factor, particularly for restaurants identifying as fine dining establishments.

One in three New Zealand respondents indicated their future seafood consumption would be higher or much higher than their current uptake.

Fast food and takeaway shops are a more important channel for Australian and New Zealand respondents compared to other countries, reflecting the popularity of fish ‘n’ chips.

Chinese respondents indicated the highest seafood consumption rate and the highest purchasing frequency amongst the countries surveyed. Almost every Chinese had purchased seafood and seven in 10 were regular buyers. Online purchasing is significant.

New Zealand, with its highly regarded environment, stable economy, sustainable wild fishery and burgeoning aquaculture sector, is ideally placed to feed the growing demand for fresh, healthy seafood.

The 2021 export forecast is for another significant boost – to $2.2 billion.