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GLOBEFISH - Información e Análisis Comercial en Pesquerias

Small Pelagics - April 2015


Lower mackerel supplies likely, prices of frozen mackerel, herring rising.

After a significant increase in mackerel supplies in 2014, a modest reduction must be expected in 2015. Quotas are slightly lower but demand seems to be growing in the main markets. Prices for whole frozen mackerel are up again, and for frozen herring, prices appear to be rising well ahead of the seasonal norm.


As 2014 drew to a close, Norway and the EU met again in Bergen in mid-November and early December to negotiate the new mackerel quota round. ICES had recommended that the new quota should not exceed 906 000 tonnes. This was 100 000 less than its revised advice for 2014 (1.011 million tonnes). It was also much lower than the 1.24 million tonnes TAC set by Norway, the EU and the Faroe Islands in March last year. In the end, a total quota of 1 054 000 tonnes was finally agreed on, allocating 519 512 tonnes to the EU, 237 250 tonnes to Norway, 132 814 tonnes to the Faroe Islands, and 164 424 tonnes to be kept in reserve.

In December, the Faroe Islands signed a free trade agreement with Turkey after 15 years of negotiations. The new agreement means that the Faroe Islands can compete on equal terms with Norway, Scotland and Iceland selling seafood to Turkey. Turkey has become increasingly important as a market for some cold-water species such as mackerel and herring in recent years.


Mackerel catches in Norway were good in October, and sales took off, although prices were down as a result of abundant supplies. However, exporters expected prices to Japan to remain at steady levels, while prices for smaller sizes, going mainly to Nigeria, were down. By 31 of October, Norway had landed 195 000 tonnes, and all but 21 000 tonnes of this were landed during October.

By the end of October, most of the Icelandic and Norwegian TACs of 153 000 tonnes and 269 000 tonnes, respectively, had been caught. If other fishing nations’ catches are added, the total landed quantity approached 1 million tonnes.

The mackerel landed was sold very quickly in all markets, and as the minimum landing price had been lowered, exporters were not unhappy with their margins.

The size of fish landed was relatively small, though, most being 300 – 500 g per piece. While Japan normally prefers larger sizes, this market now seems to have adapted to the smaller sizes. Japanese buyers seemed to be worried about not getting enough product. Sales to Nigeria have also picked up. Earlier, there were problems on this market, but those seems to have been resolved. Nigeria prefers smaller sizes, down to about 200 – 400 g, and prices paid were in the range USD 1 100 – 1 200 per tonne. In Egypt and other parts of Africa, prices were slightly higher, up to USD 1 500 per tonne.


Norway’s exports of frozen mackerel increased dramatically during the first nine months of 2014, from 95 400 tonnes during the same period in 2013 to 155 300 tonnes in 2014 (+62.8%). There were strong increases in shipments to the four largest markets, China (+114%), Nigeria (+2 109%), Japan (+81%) and the Netherlands (+427%). On the contrary, Norwegian exporters saw declines in export volumes to some markets such as Russia (-44%), Ukraine (-64%), and Taiwan Province of China (-67%).

In Europe, German imports of whole frozen mackerel remained fairly steady, and registered only a 2.6% decline during the first nine months of the year. Imports from the UK fell by 20.5% to 6 200 tonnes. Only minor changes were registered for other suppliers.

Exports of mackerel to China from the UK, Ireland and the Faroe Islands increased dramatically during 2014, at the expense of Norwegian exporters. According to a report in UndercurrentNews, the UK’s market share in China went from just 1% in 2013 to 11% for the first nine months of 2014. One of the reasons for this is the strained diplomatic relations between Norway and China since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Norway’s market share has declined from 85% in 2013 to 63% in the first nine months of 2014. Much of the mackerel imported from Norway is actually just processed (or re-packed) for re-export to Japan.

Another reason for increasing exports from the UK, Ireland and the Faroe Islands is that the Chinese market for mackerel is growing. During the first nine months of 2014, Chinese imports of mackerel grew by 20% compared with the same period in 2013.

Horse mackerel

In Namibia, the Government has been looking for years for ways to increase value-addition within the country rather than just exporting raw material. A new processing plant for horse mackerel was opened in Walvis Bay in November 2014 and will most probably contribute to this end. The plant, which is owned by the Gendev Group, will add to the existing on-shore freezing facilities as it will have a capacity of 300 tonnes per day. It will also create employment for up to 700 persons in the local community.

The law suit launched by the Namsov Fishing Enterprises against the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources for allocating horse mackerel quotas to companies that did not have the capacity to catch their quota ended with a ruling in favour of Namsov. Thus, the Government’s quota allocation was ruled “unlawful and irregular”.


Herring has been moving north along the coast of Norway lately, and there is a growing fishery for this stock in the Troms region in the north. In November 2014 over 100 000 tonnes were landed in this region.


The Alaskan herring fleet is expecting to catch considerably less Sitka herring this year, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The “guideline harvest level” for 2015 in the Sitka Sound is just 8 712 tonnes, which is the lowest level since 2003, and only about half of last year’s level of 16 333 tonnes.

It is now 25 years since the “Exxon Valdez” accident in Alaska, but some fish stocks have still not recovered, according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. Pacific herring is one of the species that is still struggling. Consequently, the status for Pacific herring in Alaska is being kept at status quo.


Dutch exports of frozen herring during the first three quarters of 2014 increased significantly, from 93 900 tonnes during the same period of 2013 to 162 000 tonnes during the same period in 2014. African markets, especially, showed strengthening signs. Exports to Nigeria increased by 47% to 64 500 tonnes, and exports to Egypt increased by 79% to 47 900 tonnes. Exports to China also increased strongly to 15 900 tonnes (+124%). Other growing exports markets for the Netherlands included Malta, which imported 8 200 tonnes of frozen herring from Netherlands during the first half of 2014, and Tunisia (3 500 tonnes).

Norwegian frozen herring exports declined slightly from 112 500 tonnes during the first nine months of 2013 to 110 500 tonnes during the same period in 2014. In fact though, the decline in Norwegian frozen herring exports has been massive if we go a few more years back. In 2009, Norway exported 290 800 tonnes during the first three quarters of the year, and in 2014 this was reduced by almost two thirds. Main markets for Norwegian frozen herring were Russia (29% of the total), Ukraine (22% of total), and Lithuania (15% of total).

German imports of frozen herring fillets dropped by almost 20% during the first three quarters of 2014, to 12 100 tonnes. While the main supplier, Norway, increased shipments slightly to 5 400 tonnes (accounting for almost 45% of total German frozen herring imports), other main suppliers such as the UK and Ireland decreased exports to Germany. This may be seen in light of the significant increase in shipments to other markets.

Japan’s imports of frozen herring during the first nine months of 2014 increased slightly (+6.1%) to 32 900 tonnes. The main suppliers were the USA (accounting for 68% of total imports), Russia (14% of total) and Canada (8% of total). There were very minor changes for all major suppliers.

At the beginning of December, catches of North Sea herring were quite good, and prices were very high. “We’re getting Matjes herring prices for 180 – 190 g fish,” said one fisherman. According to reports, prices of up to NOK 5.22 per kg were paid to the fishermen.

Russia’s exports of herring were considerably reduced during the first nine months of 2014. According to Itar-Tass news agency, the year-on-year reduction was 40%. The main reason for this is the Government’s initiative to prioritize domestic sales in order to offset the impact of Russia’s import ban on fish from western countries.


In Iceland, it is reported that capelin landings were down by 75%, to 112 214 tonnes during the period from December 2013 through November 2014. Overall pelagic catches dropped by almost 30% as a result of the reduced catches of capelin.

Anchovies and sardines

IMARPE, the Peruvian Institute for Marine Research, in October recommended that the Peruvian anchovy fishery should remain closed during the second season of the year because of lower stocks. Understandably, the industry is frustrated by this and claim that they will face a loss of as much as USD 1.2 billion if the second season is not opened. The move will also trigger the collapse of many small and medium size fishing companies, according to the Fisheries National Front of Peru. The sharp drop in the anchovy biomass is attributed to El Niño, the climatic phenomenon that occurs periodically and warms up the sea. The warmer water has a strong impact on the anchovy, which will migrate to deeper and cooler waters beyond the reach of the industrial fleet.

European imports of canned sardines are fairly stable. Imports into Germany and France declined slightly during the first nine months of the year, while UK imports increased marginally. The main supplier to all three markets is Morocco, which accounted for 64% of canned sardine imports in Germany, 68% in France, and 41% in the UK.

The USA has shown a slight increase in imports of canned sardines in 2014, although the trend over the last six years has been very stable. Annual imports vary between 20 000 tonnes and 22 000 tonnes. In the first nine months of 2014, US imports of canned sardines increased by 6.3%, to 22 100 tonnes compared with 2013 figures. The main suppliers were Canada, Thailand, and Morocco, each accounting for between 17% and 15% of total imports. Canada showed the greatest increase in shipments to the USA (+46%) during this period.


Mackerel prices, which dropped dramatically during the first half of 2014, are now up again, in spite of increased supplies. However, the trend differs according to the size of the fish. For mackerel larger than 600 g, prices have bounced up, while prices for smaller than 600 g are on a slight decline.

Herring prices usually follow their seasonal pattern. However, there seems to be a departure from the pattern in late 2014, as the upturn for whole frozen herring, which usually comes in May – June every year, seems to have come already in December 2014. Prices for frozen fillets, which have been on a downward trend since early 2012, made a sudden upward jump in November – December 2014.


The outlook for 2015 is a bit mixed. A slight reduction in landings of mackerel and herring can be expected, as well as a major reduction for anchovies. Prices seem to be on the way up, and if supplies tighten, this trend is expected to continue.

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