Anchovy shortage in Europe likely

French anchovy canners are warning the market that there may be a supply shortage this year.

Fiac, the country’s tinned fish association, announced last week that since September 2009 anchovy landings in Morocco have been off significantly. Despite a slight improvement in 2008 and 2009, the situation worsened again in early 2010.

“If anchovy fishing fails to pick up in a rapid and abundant manner, the makers of salted and filleted anchovies will have difficulty in supplying their clients in next few months,” said Fiac.

The European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) is found mainly in the Mediterranean and off the Atlantic coasts of Portugal, Spain and France. Catches of the fish in European waters have plummeted in recent decades. Fisherman netted 85,000 metric tons of anchovies in 1965, but by 2005 that figure had dropped to just 950 metric tons.

Five firms make up Fiac: Belmonte, Conserveries Provençales, La Monégasque-Vanelli, Miceli and Roque. Together they sell about 6,000 metric tons of salted and marinated anchovies, as well as other anchovy preparations, annually, with a combined turnover of EUR 50 million.

While, in theory, European canners could switch to the more abundant Argentine anchovy (Engraulis anchoita), which hail from the other side of the Atlantic, “from an economic point of view, the situation is more complex,” said Fiac. Prices of European anchovies are expected to continue to rise as a result of the supply shortage.

Accordingly, agreements inked out between the European Union and Morocco mean that fish harvested in Morocco is exempt from tariffs when entering France. However, if the fish is imported from Argentina, the same canners would have to pay a 25 percent duty.

As a result of falling stocks, the principal EU anchovy fishery in the Bay of Biscay had been closed until this year due to depleted stock levels. But in 2010 it opened, with the quota set at 7,000 metric tons.

Signing off on the reopening of the fishery last December, Europe’s fisheries ministers established the distribution of total allowable catch at 80 percent for Spain and the remainder for France.

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