Volume, value of Norway’s seafood exports fall as COVID-19 takes its toll

Published on
May 12, 2020

Norwegian seafood companies sold 183,000 metric tons (MT) of fisheries and aquaculture products in April, 30,000 MT less than in March and 7 percent lower than 2019’s corresponding month. At NOK 8.2 billion (USD 800.7 million, EUR 742 million), the value of the country’s seafood trade was down NOK 1.4 billion (USD 136.7 million, EUR 126.7 million) compared to March’s revenues, and NOK 666 million (USD 65 million, EUR 60.3 million) less than achieved in April 2019.

This was the first time since September 2018 that Norway had experienced a fall in the value of its seafood exports, and came despite a marked weakening in the kroner, the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) acknowledged.

“A significant fall in demand for salmon and whitefish in April as a result of the corona[virus] crisis is the main reason. This can be evidenced by the decline of the restaurant segment and increased air freight costs for the transportation of fresh products to overseas markets,” NSC Director of Market Insight and Market Access Tom-Jørgen Gangsø said.

The council also highlighted that for the first four months of the year, the seafood export value had increased by 6 percent or NOK 2.2 billion (USD 214.9 million, EUR 199.1 million) year-on-year to NOK 36.7 billion (USD 3.6 billion, EUR 3.3 billion).

“This year can be split in two for seafood exports: before and after the corona crisis," Gangsø said. "2020 started off well with a strong increase in value due to increased demand for Norwegian seafood products. This positive trend came to an abrupt end within the introduction of measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which is why we are seeing exports fall for the first time in 18 months."

Gangsø said within markets, local measures to reduce the spread of the virus had led to changes in the flow of goods, and that this was especially true for fresh fish.

“For example, we see growth in a market like Spain, while there is a decline in Italy. We also find that the corona crisis has led to layoffs and increased unemployment globally,” he said. “There is considerable uncertainty about how weakened purchasing power will affect demand for Norwegian seafood in the long-run.”

Lower salmon prices

Last month’s salmon exports totaled 83,100 MT, which was 3 percent less than in April 2019. This trade achieved a total sales value of NOK 5.4 billion (USD 527.4 million, EUR 488.7 million), a fall of 13 percent compared with a year previously, with Poland, France, and the United States providing the main markets. The average price for fresh whole salmon last month was NOK 57.71 (USD 5.64, EUR 5.22) per kilogram, down from April 2019’s NOK 68.45 (USD 6.68, EUR 6.19). 

To date, Norway has exported 334,600 MT of salmon worth NOK 23.7 billion (USD 2.3 billion, EUR 2.1 billion), representing increases in volume and value of 1 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

Over the same period, it has sold 19,800 MT of trout, achieving revenues of NOK 1.2 billion (USD 117.2 million, EUR 108.6 million), with the volume and value up 35 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Continued cod uncertainty

In the whitefish sector, Norway last month exported 7,300 MT of fresh cod and skrei exports earning NOK 313 million (USD 30.6 million, EUR 28.3 million). These totals were down 15 percent and 12 percent respectively. For the first four months of the year, 30,300 MT or NOK 1.4 billion worth of these products were sold overseas, representing a 10 percent decrease in volume and a value rise of 2 percent year-on-year. 

NSC analyst Ingrid Kristine Pettersen said that at the start of the year, the council was anticipating a new record season for skrei, but a relatively sharp fall in demand in March and April – largely due to the closure of restaurants – has had a negative impact on export volumes.

In April, skrei export revenues were down 9 percent year-on-year to NOK 264 million (USD 25.8 million, EUR 23.9 million), with Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland providing the main markets.

“Developments in purchasing power in the future also create great uncertainty regarding the demand for fresh cod in the future,” she said.

Also last month, 5,600 MT of frozen cod with a value of NOK 268 million (USD 26.2 million, EUR 24.3 million) was exported by Norway. This represented a 5 percent decrease in volume but a value rise of 13 percent.

China, France, and the United Kingdom were the largest recipients of frozen cod in April, although there was a fall in the volumes sent to the U.K. market, Pettersen said.

“This is partly because last April's month was a very strong export month to the U.K., as fears of closed borders in connection with Brexit led to a stock build-up.”

So far in 2020, 28,800 MT of frozen cod – also worth NOK 1.4 billion – ­has been exported by Norway, down 7 percent in volume and 4 percent in value year-on-year. 

Pelagics buck the trend

Meanwhile, the country’s pelagic trade exported 17,200 MT of herring valued at NOK 265 million (USD 25.9 million, EUR 24 million) last month, with the volume up 56 percent and the value increasing by 131 percent on last year. At the same time, 14,000 MT of mackerel worth NOK 270 million (USD 26.4 million, EUR 24.4 million) was sold, up 30 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

In total, 123,000 MT of herring worth NOK 1.4 billion and 95,300 MT of mackerel valued at NOK 1.6 billion (USD 156.3 million, EUR 144.8 million) were sold to overseas markets in the opening four months of the year.

Norway’s shellfish sector has found trade a lot more difficult, exporting just 457 MT of king crab worth NOK 155 million (USD 15.1 million, EUR 14 million) and 3,700 MT of shrimp valued at NOK 306 million (USD 29.9 million, EUR 27.7 million) over the same period.

In 2019, the Scandinavian country exported 2.7 million MT of seafood worth a record NOK 107.3 billion (USD 10.5 billion, EUR 9.7 billion).

Photo courtesy of Grigorev Mikhail/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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