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GLOBEFISH - Información e Análisis Comercial en Pesquerias

Small Pelagics - December 2014


TAC for mackerel, herring, blue whiting and capelin all cut.

Based on scientific advice, ICES has recommended significant cuts in the TACs for mackerel, herring, blue whiting and capelin. At the same time, the organization claims that several species, such as mackerel, hake, and monkfish have recovered. The situation for herring, however, is not so bright.

The Barents Sea survey, undertaken by Norway’s Institute of Marine Research (IMR), showed that while some stocks like cod and mackerel are strong, the situation for herring and capelin gives cause for concern. Herring stocks have been greatly reduced (perhaps as a result of heavy cod stocks feeding on herring), and researchers found reduced stocks of adult capelin as well. ICES has recommended reductions in the TAC for Norwegian spring spawning herring, and it is expected that the joint Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission will set a lower TAC for capelin next year as well.



According to Undercurrent News, the Atlantic mackerel TAC was reduced from 927 000-1.011 million tonnes to 831 000-906 000 tonnes, a reduction of 100 000 tonnes. Though survey results from this summer found that the total mackerel biomass has increased slightly to about 9 million tonnes, about two thirds of the stocks were found to be less than six years old, which that is why ICES recommended the TAC cut. 

The researchers noticed that due to higher surface temperatures in the ocean attributed to global warming, mackerel had moved further north and west than before. This has, in turn, pushed the herring even further northwest.

By mid-September, Greenland had caught over 77 000 tonnes of mackerel out of a total quota of 100 000 tonnes. Fishing will continue until the quota is filled. Iceland, however, is ending its mackerel season, having caught about 134 000 tonnes out of a total quota of 161 000 tonnes. The Faroe Islands also have considerable quantities left of their quota: 65 905 tonnes have been landed out of a quota of 156 240 tonnes. Norway has landed 52 000 tonnes of its 227 000 tonne quota.

When the Norwegian mackerel season kicked off, there was concern that the size of the fish was very small. As a consequence of the small sizes initially caught, there was also worries that prices might come under pressure, and that the smaller fish would be diverted to markets that are less size and quality conscious, such as Egypt, Nigeria, and Turkey.


The Russian import ban on seafood from some western countries has led to a shortage of mackerel and herring on the Russian market. While the authorities claim that domestic production can replace imports, traders active in this market say this is not the case due to difficult distribution logistics. It was estimated that the Russian Federation had lost access to about half a million tonnes of seafood, which has until now been imported.

During the first half of 2014, frozen mackerel exports from Norway showed a significant increase. The total volume exported amounted to 70 700 tonnes, which was 19.6% more than compared with the same period in 2013. The most important markets were China, accounting for 13 200 tonnes (or 18.7%), Nigeria (11 100 tonnes or 15.7%) and the Netherlands (7 200 tonnes or 10.2%). Norway registered declining exports to important markets like Japan (-19.4%) and the Russian Federation (-38.3%).

Frozen mackerel imports into Germany fell slightly by 7% during the first half of 2014. The main suppliers were the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Mackerel supplies from Norway are particularly high this year, and the Russian Federation was expected to take over 50 000 tonnes of this. Now Norway must look for alternative markets, or an alternative way to sell mackerel to the Russian Federation via other countries if possible. Nigeria is seen as a potential market for larger amounts of Norwegian mackerel in the longer term, but this market presents several challenges, such as import restrictions recently introduced under the new Agriculture Minister.

In Japan, demand is strong, with the market importing about 15 000 to 20 000 tonnes by the end of September. Japan has a preference for Norwegian mackerel of good quality. Nigeria, on the other hand, also imports large quantities of mackerel, but will settle for smaller sizes and lower quality.


Frozen mackerel prices took a deep dive during July and August. Norwegian export prices for frozen mackerel >600 g fell from NOK 35.83 per kg (fob Norway) in May to just NOK 13.97 per kg in August. Prices for smaller sizes (



According to the Norwegian IMR, the Norwegian spring spawning herring stocks have been deteriorating since 2004. The spawning biomass has fallen below 4 million tonnes, and if it falls as low as 2.5 million tonnes, researchers will advise a total stop to this fishery. Next year, IMR estimates that the spawning stock will be at around 3.5 million tonnes.

After the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, Alaska’s herring stocks suffered a serious set-back. However, the stock is now recovering, and some are hoping that the Alaska herring fishery may be re-opened in 2015 albeit with a small TAC.


After the Russian Federation imposed the import ban on seafood from Norway, Norwegian exports to the Russian Federation fell by a massive 82% in August. Herring and trout were the most affected products. Herring exports dropped from 2 841 tonnes in July to just 1 130 tonnes in August (-60%). The export price to the Russian Federation went up by almost 5%, though. The Russian Federation is the single largest import market for Norwegian herring, and during the first 8 months of 2014, the Russian Federation had imported 31 725 tonnes of frozen whole herring from Norway, accounting for 31% of Norway’s total exports of frozen herring. Thus, Norwegian herring exporters are feeling the import ban particularly hard.

Currently, Russian fish processing companies are ready to substitute Norwegian Atlantic herring with Atlantic herring from Iceland and the Faroe Islands, and to a lesser extent with Pacific herring from the Russian Far East. The Russian herring market is estimated at 430 000 tonnes annually, and 45% of market demand was previously covered by imported Atlantic herring.

Overall supplies of herring have been a little tighter this year, and this is reflected in international trade figures. Norwegian exports of frozen whole herring declined from 86 000 tonnes during the first half of 2013 to 81 500 tonnes during the same period in 2014 (-5.2%). These trends were before the Russian import ban, so the Russian Federation was still by far the largest market, taking 28 200 tonnes, or 35.3% of total Norwegian frozen herring exports.. Other main markets like Ukraine and Lithuania took 13 500 and 13 300 tonnes, respectively. While Ukraine demonstrated a slight decline in imports likely due to the war, there was an increase in shipments to Lithuania.

Dutch exports of herring increased considerably during the first six months of 2014. Total Dutch herring exports grew by +20.2%, with Egypt and Nigeria as the main markets.

German imports of frozen herring fillets fell slightly during the first half of the year, by -8.9%. Norway, the main supplier, strengthened its position on this market.

Japan is importing more fresh and frozen herring this year. Imports during the first six months of the year increased by 48.1% compared with the same time period in 2013. The main supplier, the USA, strengthened its position considerably, while the Russian Federation lost market share.


Prices for herring have been on a declining trend for some time, and this continued in the past quarter. Export prices for Norwegian whole frozen herring slid from NOK 11.82 per kg in June to just NOK 6.36 per kg in August. This is a seasonal trend, though  the longer-term trend is still slightly downward. Export prices for frozen herring fillets also declined, although not so dramatically, from NOK 11.82 per kg in June to NOK 10.87 per kg in August. 

Anchovies and sardines


In an effort to maintain sustainability in the artisanal anchovy fishery, Chilean authorities announced a ban on fishing sardine and anchovies from late July. The ban will be in effect until 21 October, and was based on several scientific studies undertaken by the Fisheries Development Institute.

In Peru, the first anchovy season of the year was extended by ten days until 10 of August because of El Niño. By the end of July, about 65% of the total TAC of 2.53 million tonnes had been landed. The extension of the season was expected to bring the catch to 70-75% of the quota. Temperatures on the Peruvian coast have been higher than usual (due to El Niño), but since July they have started to return to normal.

The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment closed the anchovy fishery in southern Galicia in August because the fleet had exceeded their 75 tonne quota by 500%. Not surprisingly, the Galician fishermen were unhappy about this closure. In the Gulf of Cadiz, the quota is much larger at 6 000 tonnes. Following this, in September, the sardine fishery in area VIIIc and area IX was closed as the quotas were filled. In response, the Association do Cerco Galicia of Galicia demands larger pelagic quotas for the second half of 2014.

Spain’s modest catches of sardines this season is causing concern for the canning sector. Also, the fish are smaller, which affects the industry. The result is that the canning industry in the region of the Bay of Biscaine is facing issues in getting enough raw material for their operations. Representatives of the Canners Association of Cantabria claim that the resource is poorly managed, and that this is part of the reason why the industry is now facing problems.

In an effort to maintain supplies of sardines to Brazil, the Government reduced the import duty on frozen sardines from 10% to 2% in August. The new tariff applies to an import quota of 60 000 tonnes of frozen sardines.

Canned sardines

Portuguese canned sardine exports grew in 2013. Total canned fish exports from Portugal grew by 16%, valued at about EUR 206 million in 2013, mainly driven by sardine exports. Canned sardines accounted for about one third of the total canned fish exports of 50 000 tonnes, which is 9.8% higher than in 2012. However, the value increased by 15.7%, as prices in the main markets increased.

Producers and exporters in Peru are now showing interest in developing the Portuguese market for its products. Peru participated at the recent Conxemar exhibition in Vigo, Spain in early October, and planned to  hold a business conference after Conxemar, where Peruvian entrepreneurs would  meet with 10 Portuguese fishing companies.

Sardine prices have shown strength in the past few months, and prices for fresh whole sardines in Italy have increased significantly over the past quarter.


Supplies of herring, capelin and blue whiting may become quite tight over the next six months, while supplies of mackerel will be slightly restricted as a result of the reduced TAC, though this will improve again in about a year’s time. For herring and capelin, on the other hand, the outlook is bleaker and for a longer period. Prices are on a slightly downward trend for mackerel and herring, while sardine prices are going up. If low supplies of herring continues for some time, prices will most likely come up.

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