Europe’s fish lovers are facing higher cod prices because of a prolonged fishing strike in Iceland and increased demand after the rising cost of salmon led shoppers to seek alternatives.
Norwegian cod prices have risen almost 30 per cent from a year ago to €2 a kilogramme after a 45 per cent rise in salmon prices over the same period led consumers to look for cheaper substitutes.
“Salmon is facing a negative setback from the demand side with more people buying white fish like cod,” said Kolbjorn Giskeodegard, analyst at Nordea.
Prices for Icelandic cod have risen 1 per cent from a year before. Disagreements between the Icelandic fishermen’s union and the vessel owners’ association have left ships grounded at ports in Iceland since December.
Michael Liberty, analyst at commodities data group Mintec, said high inventories of frozen cod in Iceland had kept prices contained despite the lengthy strike, but the inventories had started to dwindle.
Prices of Icelandic cod could rise further this year. “The peak cod-fishing season in Iceland is typically between February to April, meaning current delays in fishing could limit supplies later in the year,” Mr Liberty said.
The strike caused by disagreements between Iceland’s fishermen and trawler owners stems mostly from wages for fishermen and the fishing industry taxes. The Icelandic government has said it does not want to get involved in the talks, but the stalemate in talks may mean it will be forced to intervene.
The UK is a leading buyer of Icelandic cod, which accounts for about a third of its cod imports. The Icelandic strike, which has meant incoming cod has dwindled, has led to lay-offs in processing hubs.
“The strike in Iceland has been a real concern; it has been going on for nine weeks now,” said Martyn Boyers, chief executive of Grimsby Fish Market, in the northern port town. “Ours is a volume business and we have had to make some redundancies.”
Cod is the UK’s most popular whitefish and is the third top-selling fish after salmon and tuna. It is also the most popular fish eaten out of home, with fish and chips at the top of the list.
The rise in European cod prices comes as overall fish prices have firmed thanks to lower supplies and steady demand growth. Apart from salmon, whose output has been hit by disease and sea lice problems, prices for tuna have also risen after a period of sustained lows, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization.
During the past year, the El Niño weather event led to the warming of waters in parts of South America, affecting catches of anchovies as well as causing toxic algae bloom.
“Low or stable supplies of many highly traded species can be expected to push global seafood prices up further in the medium term, despite the economic difficulties currently being experienced in the major emerging markets such as the Russian Federation and Brazil,” said the FAO in a report.