Capelin is back at record high prices


After a year of a total ban on capelin fishing, Iceland has opened up for a limited quota in 2021. But there is still no quota in Norwegian waters. With this fishery now active again, and a very strong demand in the market, prices have soared. The North Atlantic mackerel fishery was off to a good start, as was the herring fishery. In Peru, the anchovy quota is expected to remain the same as last year at five million tonnes.


The mackerel fishery in Norway started well in 2021. During the first week of the year, a total of 30 600 tonnes were sold on auction, compared to just 10 000 tonnes during the same week of 2020. Most of the landings in Norway came from foreign vessels fishing west of Shetland. Prices were lower than in 2020, though. As of the end of January, a total of some 62 500 tonnes of mackerel were landed, up 71 percent compared to the same period in 2020. The mackerel stocks in Canadian Atlantic waters are in bad shape. According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the number of spawn-age mackerel in this region is at the lowest level ever recorded. This does not bode well for mackerel catches in the coming years. Mackerel caught in this area are mainly used as bait for the lobster fishery. In 2020 the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) was set at 8 000 tonnes, but only 7 772 tonnes were actually caught.


2020 was a strong year for Norwegian exports of frozen mackerel, which increased 26 percent by volume, to just under 300 000 tonnes. Prices were a bit weaker than in 2019, though, so the export value increased by only 16 percent to NOK 5 billion. Demand was very good in markets like Japan, Taiwan Province of China and the Republic of Korea. China’s imports of whole frozen mackerel dropped by 21.5 percent to just 117 769 tonnes. The two largest suppliers (Norway and the Russian Federation) registered declines in shipments, while the third largest supplier, the Republic of Korea, increased shipments massively, from 2 365 tonnes in 2019 to 13 713 tonnes in 2020. Imports of atka mackerel into the Republic of Korea also increased impressively in 2020. Total imports reached 12 069 tonnes, 48 percent higher than in 2019. The largest supplier by far was the Russian Federation, which accounted for 85 percent of the total. The rest was supplied by the United States of America.


When the Alaska roe herring fishery opened on 27 March 2021, it was with limited participation by the herring fleet. Last year the fishery was closed, and in 2019 there was a very limited fishery. But with a quota of over 33 300 tonnes this year, 2021 could be a good year. While herring stocks in Alaska are on the rise, the fishers are finding it hard to find markets that will accept the fish. The favoured size is less than 240 g per fish, but the herring landed has been in the 285 – 330 g range.

On the US east coast, Maine authorities have announced new rules for the commercial herring fishery, prohibiting certain kinds of fishing. The herring caught in this region is mostly used for bait for lobster trap fishing. The Norwegian herring fishery was off to a good start in January. The good fishing continued through mid-February, when about 32 percent of the 2021 quota of 494 785 tonnes for Norwegian springspawning herring had been caught. Thus, landings were ahead of 2020 thanks to good demand. Prices to fishermen were NOK 5.52 per kg, compared to NOK 5.22 in the same period in 2020.


Norway’s exports of frozen herring dropped dramatically in 2020. Total export volume dropped by 33.2 percent to 127 352 tonnes valued at NOK 996.5 million (USD 117.2 million). Exports to the largest importer, Egypt, declined by only 1.7 percent, while exports to the second and third largest markets (Nigeria and Lithuania) dropped by 45 percent. Russian exports of whole frozen herring increased by 17.7 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, to 215 620 tonnes. The majority of this increase was due to a very strong rise in shipments to the Republic of Korea (+99.2 percent). Other large markets, China and Nigeria, had only modest increases (+2.3 percent and +7.3 percent, respectively). EU imports of Norwegian frozen herring fillets amounted to 114 494 tonnes in 2020 with a FOB value of NOK 1.5 billion. This represented an increase of 48 percent by value and 31 percent by volume compared to 2019. The average FOB price per kg increased from NOK 11.79 to NOK 13.34.

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