Stronger mackerel supplies, herring supplies slightly up in 2020


There has been a dispute about the state of mackerel stocks in the North Atlantic, and the end result may be a strong increase in the TAC for 2020. The herring TAC will also be up, although by much less. Heavy supplies spell lower prices. 


In October 2019, the European Union, Norway and the Faroe islands agreed on the 2020 TAC for mackerel. The total quota was set at 922 064 tonnes, a 41 percent increase from 2019. This TAC is in line with advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). In 2019, Iceland, Greenland and the Russian Federation set their own unilateral quotas, and this is a grave concern to the management of this resource. Iceland increased its unilateral quota from 107 000 tonnes in 2019 to 140 000 tonnes in 2020. The unilateral quotas caused the MSC to suspend its certification for 2020, therefore mackerel from this fishery cannot bear the MSC logo. This, in turn, becomes a problem for the United Kingdom's processors who are not able to get supplies of MSC mackerel. Distributors in Europe and Japan use the MSC logo on product packaging, but will not be able to obtain enough MSC certified mackerel. Both TAC and landings of Northeast Atlantic mackerel followed ICES advice closely until 2005. Landings dropped to 318 000 tonnes in 2006, below the ICES recommendation of 441 000 tonnes, and then from 2010, landings were far above the ICES advice, mainly as a result of the unilaterally quotas set by Iceland, Greenland, Ireland and the Russian Federation. Mackerel landings peaked in 2014, but have been declining ever since.

ICES increased its quota advice in 2019, and again in 2020. During the first nine months of 2019, Norway’s exports of mackerel amounted to 101 128 tonnes with a FOB value of NOK 1.66 billion (USD 185 million). This represented an increase of 15.6 percent by volume and 53 percent by value. Norwegian mackerel exports to China increased from 10 528 tonnes during the first nine months of 2018 to 19 653 tonnes during the same period in 2019 (+86.7 percent). Shipments to the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam also increased, while exports to Japan declined by almost 13 percent. China is being targeted by the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) to promote mackerel. Some consumer interest already exists, but Chinese consumption lags far behind Japan’s 160 000 tonnes per year.

About 95 percent of mackerel sold in China is through the food service industry, primarily Japanese restaurants. Thus, mackerel is often perceived as a Japanese product in China. Most of the 115 000 tonnes of mackerel sold in China is Pacific fish, with only about 10 percent from the Atlantic. Pacific mackerel is regarded as a low-value product, and Norwegians want to position their mackerel as a higher value product. After a decline in 2018, China exports of whole frozen mackerel registered a 23.4 percent increase in the first nine months of 2019. There were strong increases in shipments to Egypt (+320 percent) and Thailand (+146 percent), while exports to the Philippines fell by 44 percent compared with the same period of 2018. Russian exports of whole frozen mackerel during the first nine months of 2019 fell by 15 percent when compared to the same period of 2018, to 113 866 tonnes. The main market was China, which took just under 60 percent of the total. The Republic of Korea accounted for 24 111 tonnes (21 percent), and Nigeria 8 820 tonnes (7.7 percent of total Russian exports). 


In October 2019, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the Russian Federation agreed on the quota for Atlanto-Scandinavian herring at 525 594 tonnes for 2020, representing an 11 percent cut compared to 2019. Of the 2020 quota some 399 451 tonnes, or 76 percent, will be caught by Norway. As the Norwegian spring-spawning herring season was winding down in late November. Cumulative landings from January through November 2019 were 375 055 tonnes, up 36 percent compared to the first eleven months of 2018, when 274 906 tonnes were landed. With such an increase in supplies, prices fell to NOK 4.33 per kg, compared to NOK 4.62 in 2018. Fishing was also good in Iceland, with record landings in October and November. As landings dried up in December, prices rose a little. German imports of preserved and prepared herring in the first nine months of 2019 fell slightly to 30 370 tonnes, down from 33 908 tonnes in the same period of 2018. Poland was the dominant supplier, accounting for almost 74 percent of the total import volume. Since decades the German herring processors are processing the fish in Poland, due to lower labour costs there. During the first nine months of 2019, Norway exported 115 076 tonnes of fresh and frozen herring, an increase of 7.5 percent over the same period in 2018. Prices went up a little, too. In addition, Norway exported 68 227 tonnes of frozen herring fillets, compared to 77 184 tonnes during the same period in 2018 (-11.6 percent). 


Peru’s second anchovy season in the north central region started in November 2019, with a total quota of 2.79 million tonnes. This represented a 33 percent increase over the second season in 2018, when the quota was 2.1 million tonnes. Almost all of the 2018 quota was caught. The quota was lifted in 2019 after estimates by Instituto del Mar del Peru (IMARPE) were published in October 2019, showing a biomass of 8.34 million tonnes. Good catches of anchoveta south of El Rincon in Argentina may revive the salted fish sector. Around a dozen vessels are involved in this fishery, and land their catch in the port of Mar del Plata. There are about ten salted fish plants that have started receiving the anchoveta, and they have hired temporary staff to meet the demand. 


Russian and Norwegian research vessels have registered low stocks of capelin in the Barents Sea during recent cruises, according the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen. Two concentrations of capelin were registered; one east of Edge Island near Svalbard, and the other to the far east of the fisheries protection zone at Svalbard. Very little capelin was registered on the Russian side of the Barents Sea.

The results do not bode well for the capelin fishery in the near future. Capelin is a very important source of food for cod, and it is important to re-build the capelin resource also for future cod fisheries. Icelandic ocean researchers have recommended a zero capelin quota for 2020. The Marine Research Institute of Iceland suggests that capelin fishing will not be able to recommence until 2021.


There will be much stronger supplies of Atlantic mackerel in 2020, with a 41 percent increase in the TAC. Mackerel prices have been on an upward trend since the beginning of 2018, but are now likely to decline, given increased supply. Herring supplies will also increase, albeit at a lower (+11 percent) rate. Supplies from herring fishery on the east coast of North America are expected to all but disappear as fishing restrictions were imposed by United States of America authorities. Most of these supplies have gone to bait for the lobster industry. Prices for whole frozen herring are somewhat seasonal, with a peak during the summer months.

For the rest of the year, prices are likely to hover around present levels, with the normal peak during the summer for whole frozen fish. For frozen fillets, prices are expected to stay flat. Capelin fishing in the Barents Sea is likely to be severely reduced, if not discontinued altogether.

Share this page