Coronavirus sees Norwegian seafood export volumes tighten as trade value soars

Published on
March 9, 2020

Norwegian seafood exporters shipped 216,000 metric tons (MT) of fisheries and aquaculture products to overseas markets last month, earning NOK 9.5 billion (USD 1 billion, EUR 909.9 million) in the process. While this total volume was 6 percent less than in February 2019, the value was 17 percent, or NOK 1.4 billion (USD 151.4 million, EUR 134.1 million), higher.

So far this year, the Scandinavian country has exported 430,000 MT of seafood, worth NOK 19 billion (USD 2.1 billion, EUR 1.8 billion), with the volume down 2 percent year-on-year and the value up 15 percent. This climbing demand is a welcome sight for Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) Director of Market Insight and Market Access Tom-Jørgen Gangsø, especially during a time of global upheaval due to a new strain of coronavirus, COVID-19.

“Despite increased uncertainty in the world's seafood markets as a result of the focus on COVID-19, demand for Norwegian seafood continues to increase overall,” Gangsø said. “The greatest growth in value was for salmon. Salmon as a category is proving to be very robust against the temporary reduction in demand from individual markets. The reason for this is that salmon is exported to over 100 markets, used for many different occasions and is available in many product forms.”

Gangsø also noted that the export of whitefish had contributed most to February’s growth and was driven by both currency and demand.

Last month’s salmon exports amounted to 81,100 MT, which was 1 percent more than in February 2019. This trade achieved a total sales value of NOK 5.9 billion (USD 638 million, EUR 565.1 million), a rise of 16 percent compared with the prior year, with Poland, France, and the United States providing the main markets.

NSC analyst Paul Aandahl said that, “as expected,” salmon exporters have seen a sharp decline in salmon exports to China. Just 363 MT of salmon were exported to the market last month, a decline of 83 percent compared to February last year, although he confirmed that the volumes have now started to gradually increase.

The council’s fisheries envoy to China, Victoria Braathen, added that in recent weeks “cautious steps towards increased activity” had been seen, which the NSC hopes will lay the foundation for increasing demand in foodservice and restaurants.

“Precautionary measures will continue to be implemented and that will set the framework for trade and daily living in the time to come as the market makes its recovery,” she said.

According to Aandahl, salmon that would otherwise have gone to China was exported to other markets last month, and this led to growth of 22 percent for fresh whole salmon to the United States, and by 73 percent to Taiwan, for example.

There was, however, a 14 percent decline in volumes going to Italy, which has so far been the European country most affected by COVID-19.

Also in the salmonid sector, Norway exported 4,900 MT of trout worth NOK 302 million (USD 32.7 million, EUR 28.9 million) last month, up 39 percent and 24 percent, respectively, compared with February 2019. Ukraine, the United States, and Thailand provided the three largest markets for Norwegian trout exporters.

So far in 2020, 10,600 MT of trout has been sold overseas for NOK 653 million (USD 70.6 million, EUR 62.5 million), rising 41 percent and 29 percent respectively.

Aandahl said that strong growth in trout production had led to lower prices. In February, the average price for whole fresh whole trout was NOK 8.70 (USD 0.94, EUR 0.83) less than for salmon.

The country’s whitefish sector also continued its strong start to 2020, with 8,900 MT of fresh cod and skrei exports earning NOK 404 million (USD 43.7 million, EUR 38.7 million) last month. These totals were up 4 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

In the opening two months, 15,000 MT of fresh cod and skrei was exported worth NOK 729 million (USD 78.8 million, EUR 69.8 million), representing an increase in volume of 13 percent and a value rise of 25 percent year-on-year. The larger export volumes were due to this year’s increased catches.

NSC analyst Ingrid Kristine Pettersen explained that while the increased supply had led to a fall in fresh cod prices, February’s were still higher than the previous year thanks to the weak kroner and a good level of demand.

Also last month, 8,200 MT of frozen cod with a value of NOK 377 million (USD 40.8 million, EUR 36.1 million) was sold by Norway to overseas markets. This represented increases in volume and value of 16 percent and 27 percent, respectively. So far this year, 13,300 MT of frozen cod worth NOK 611 million (USD 66.1 million, EUR 58.5 million) has been exported – down 21 percent and 12 percent year-on-year. 

“For February, we see positive figures for frozen cod for China, as well as redfish and blue halibut. As a result of the current situation, there is a trend towards more home consumption of seafood products sold through retail and e-commerce. This also applies to Norwegian whitefish products, including Norwegian cod, which are increasingly popular with Chinese consumers,” Braathen said.

With regards to its pelagic trade, Norway exported 38,200 MT of herring valued at NOK 376 million (USD 40.7 million, EUR 36 million) last month, with the volume down 3 percent on last year and the value increasing 31 percent. At the same time, 34,000 MT of mackerel worth NOK 552 million (USD 59.7 million, EUR 52.9 million) was shipped, up 118 percent and 110 percent, respectively.

In the opening two months, the country exported 73,500 MT of herring worth NOK 714 million (USD 77.2 million, EUR 68.4 million) and 60,500 MT of mackerel valued at NOK 991 million (USD 107.2 million, EUR 94.9 million) to overseas markets.

Last year, Norway exported 2.7 million MT of seafood worth a record NOK 107.3 billion (USD 11.6 billion, EUR 10.3 billion). Salmon accounted for 1.1 million MT and NOK 72.5 billion (USD 7.8 billion, EUR 6.9 billion) of this total, while cod contributed 181,000 MT and NOK 10.1 billion (USD 1.1 billion, EUR 967.4 million).

Photo courtesy of TemporalStreet/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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