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After declining in the past several years, canned tuna imports in the United Kingdom(UK) are showing strong signs of recovery despite higher prices in 2011.

Since 2008, the UK canned tuna market has shrunk by 17% from 144,000 MT, but its 11% growth in 2011 suggests Thailand and Ecuador are key players to watch. The UK imported 119,700 MT of canned tuna last year, compared to 108,200 MT in 2010.

Thailand and Ecuador gained the most ground in the UK canned tuna market last year, increasing the volume of their shipments by 63% and 190%.

Thailand actually tied the market leader, Mauritius, as both countries had equal shares of the market in 2011 (19%). Thailand exported 22,200 MT – up 8,600 MT from 2010 – while Mauritius had a more difficult time, shipping 20% less for a total volume of 23,000 MT.

Thailand has steadily been expanding in Europe, and this is thanks in part due to Thai Union, the world’s largest canned tuna producer and exporter. In 2010, the Thai giant took over France’s MW Brands, the parent company responsible for major UK player John West.

Ecuador, which nearly tripled its 2010 export of canned tuna to the UK last year, continues to dominate tuna catches in the Eastern Pacific Ocean with the second largest fleet in the region. As one of the world’s largest processors of canned tuna, next to Thailand and Spain, it processes more than 500 tons of tuna daily, of which 60% is sent to Europe. In 2011, it delivered 11,900 MT in canned tuna to the UK.

Ghana’s exports declined by 20% to 14,800 MT last year and in the process, the African country lost 5% of its market share. Pioneer Food Cannery, Ghana’s main producer and exporter of tuna products, is also owned by Thai Union.

Seychelles maintained a 13% share of the market, despite the high presence of piracy in its waters in 2010 which hurt its industry. Both local and foreign boats dramatically reduced their fishing which negatively affected the tuna supply.