Tight cod supplies, better for pollock


With a 20 percent reduction in cod quotas in the Barents Sea next year, cod supplies are going to be very tight, and prices may go further up. Some observers are now wondering if the price limit may have been reached and if processors and consumers may now turn to other whitefish. The general inflation in all markets may force consumers to switch to low-priced farmed whitefish such as tilapia or pangasius. Pollock supplies are expected to increase in 2024.


Cod supplies will decline in the coming year. The 2024 Barents Sea cod quota has been cut by 20 percent to 453 427 tonnes. This follows a massive cut in the quotas for 2023, when the quota was cut by 23 percent. The haddock quota in the same fishing zone is down 25 percent to 127 550 tonnes.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) set the pollock quotas for 2023 at 1.3 million tonnes for the Eastern Bering Sea and 156 578 tonnes in the Gulf of Alaska. The outlook is good, and it is expected that there will be a 20 percent increase in the Bering Sea 2024 quota, to about 2.3 million tonnes.

Consequently, there will be more Alaska pollock on the market, and this species is expected to capture market shares from cod, saithe and haddock.

By early September 2023, the Alaska pollock B season in the Bering Sea was drawing to an end, and nearly all of the 1.3 million tonne community development quota pollock allocations had been reached.


Although haddock prices have dropped, demand has not improved. Traders are still expecting demand for haddock will increase at the expense of cod, though.

Atlantic cod is gaining a foothold in China, especially in the middle to high-end markets. However, it is not expected that imports of cod will grow substantially this year. China imports cod from Norway and Greenland in particular.

H&G cod prices have been dropping in recent weeks. Chinese processing plants have been paying USD 4 000 – 4 150 per tonne for 1-2 kg H&G cod, down from USD 4 400 per tonne in August.  Prices for H&G haddock have been around USD 2 100 – 2 200 per tonne (CFR China). The price gap between cod and haddock has widened. The gap is normally around USD 1 000, but in September went to about USD 2 000. CFR prices in China for Norwegian cod and haddock have been about USD 300 higher per tonne compared to Russian prices.

In August, prices for whole frozen cod took a dip. Whole fresh cod prices have been up and down and seemed to reach a peak in the beginning of the year. Prices for fresh fillets have been on an upward trend, and strongly so, since the beginning of 2021, but now show signs of levelling off.

With a further 20 percent reduction in the 2024 cod quotas in the Barents Sea, and cod prices being record high in spite of a slight fall in August, observers are now wondering whether the market has reached its price ceiling. During 2023, the Norwegian export price for cod hit new records, and analysist are expecting that it is now close to the maximum that the market will accept. Supplies are extremely tight, as is evident from Norwegian export data. Exports of frozen cod has declined by 29 percent so far, but the export price has increased by only 7 percent. A look at historical prices reveals that prices for frozen H&G cod from Norway have been on an upward trend since late 2021, but that they now appear to be levelling off and perhaps stagnate.


Chinese imports of whitefish from Norway started to decline in mid-2023. During week 34 (21 – 27 August) exports of H&G frozen cod from Norway dropped by 60 percent. This is probably an indication that Chinese processors find Norwegian cod too expensive.

The Russian Federation’s total exports of whole frozen Alaska pollock declined, though, from 565 674 tonnes during the first half of 2022 to 503 234 tonnes in the same period in 2023 (-11 percent). Exports to China went up by 14.3 percent, while exports to the Republic of Korea declined by 54 percent.

Chinese imports of whole frozen cod increased by 18 percent to 74 394 tonnes during the first six months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. There were some major shifts among the suppliers, though. Imports from the Russian Federation went up by 34.4 percent and constituted over 64 percent of total imports, while imports from the United States of America increased by a massive 108 percent to 11 996 tonnes. Imports from Japan also increased strongly to 3 709 tonnes (+173 percent). Imports from Norway dropped by 46.5 percent, though.

Much of these imports are used as raw materials for production of frozen fillets, which are then exported. However, during the first half of the year, exports of frozen cod fillets from China declined by almost 15 percent to 39 478 tonnes. Exports to the main market, the United States of America, fell by 22.6 percent, while exports to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland increased by 14 percent.

China’s imports of whole frozen Alaska pollock increased by 12.5 percent to 382 750 tonnes during the first six months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. As much as 94 percent of this came from the Russian Federation. The exports of frozen pollock fillets also grew by 12.1 percent to 88 521 tonnes. Most of this went to Europe, with Germany and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland taking 49 and 10 percent of the total, respectively.

Norwegian export volumes of frozen cod went down during the summer, and prices predictably went up. Norway’s exports of whole frozen cod dropped by 27.3 percent during this period, to almost 30 000 tonnes. In spite of the fact that the export price rose from NOK 44.85 (USD 4.10) per kg in 2022 to NOK 52.50 (USD 4.90) in 2023, the total value of frozen cod exports also dropped considerably. Most of the decline in exports was caused by a 57 percent drop in exports to China.


Russian production of surimi is expected to increase strongly in 2023 compared to 2022. While some estimates indicate a production of about 40 000 tonnes, others are putting the estimate at 60 000 to 70 000 tonnes. US surimi production is expected to be about 185 000 tonnes in 2023, up from 160 000 tonnes in 2022.

Prices for surimi collapsed in September as both Russian suppliers and US domestic suppliers competed in a market that is shrinking because of inflation. Demand has weakened, and inflation has made consumers more price conscious. In addition, significant supplies of Russian surimi have hit the market. However, most of the Russian production is going to the Asian market, but it is also making an impact on the US market.

Prices for Alaska pollock surimi dropped by about 50 percent in September compared to the same month a year earlier. Some have blamed the “collapse” in the surimi market on Russian supplies, but this may be too hasty a conclusion. It is true that cold storage holdings are high, and that Russian supplies have become strong, but another contributing factor is the weak demand in the market. Russian producers have been targeting the Asian market primarily. US production has been strong, and apparently stronger than the market could absorb.

The Chinese market has been partly taken over by the Russian Federation, and Russian surimi have been priced lower than US surimi, making it more affordable to Chinese consumers.

During the first half of 2023, the United States of America exported 26 269 tonnes of surimi worth USD 68.3 million to Japan. This was an increase of 23 percent by volume and 18 percent by value. However, in May there was a 15 percent decline by volume and 12 percent decline by value in this export.

Prices in Japan have also dropped considerably as a result of this situation with strong supplies and high inflation. Export prices of US surimi to Japan have dropped, and the same is happening in Europe.

Speakers at the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers’ annual meeting in Seattle in September seemed to agree that something must be done in order to push surimi prices upwards again. There are many reasons for the low prices at present, such as consumer behaviour, Russian raw material supply, weather, and weaker marketing efforts. The weather seems to have played an important part, as the extremely cold winter in the Republic of Korea, followed by a hot summer, may have slowed sales. The weather played a role in consumer demand in California, too.

Changing consumer behaviour, both in North America and Europe, is partly a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the market, surimi is often sold as street food, and consumers just did not go out to eat during the pandemic.

Some also pointed out that surimi has a somewhat negative image as “imitation crab” as opposed to high-quality seafood products. What is needed, is an effort to change the negative connotation of surimi, for example by associating surimi with sushi, which has a very positive image and is popular especially among the young in Europe and North America.


Supplies of cod will be much tighter in the year to come as the Barents Sea quota has been reduced by 20 percent. However, this may be offset by a larger amount of pollock being available on the market. The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands quota is expected to be increased by 20 percent, and this will probably mean that pollock is going to take a large share of cod’s market in the coming year.

At the same time, cod prices will continue to go up, while pollock prices can be expected to decline. There is now concern that cod prices have reached such heights that consumers start to object and look for cheaper products. With global inflation rising, and economies in many countries getting tighter, it may be expected that high-priced products will have a harder time in the market. Consequently, if consumers move to cheaper whitefish products, for example farmed species like pangasius and tilapia, cod prices may come down again in the medium term. But for the rest of this year, one must expect cod prices to stay high.

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