Heavy fishing has been reported in the cod and capelin grounds off of Iceland following the end of a labor strike that lasted more than two months.
A close vote in the early morning hours of Saturday, 18 February, resulted in several fishermen’s unions coming to an agreement with Fisheries Iceland, which represents the country’s commercial sector. The deal, which tackled a number of issues but particularly focused on falling pay for fishermen, was approved with 52.4 percent of the vote, with 53.7 percent of voters participating, according to the Iceland Review.
Iceland’s fleet wasted little time setting sail, with some boats leaving port Saturday evening and the remainder heading out on Sunday, 19 February. Fishing was excellent for HB Grandi, with both its Venus and Vikingur quickly catching their holds full of capelin, the company said. But HB Grandi, which controls 18 percent of Iceland’s capelin quota, only has a few days to catch as much of its 33,423-metric-ton quota before the season ends. Garðar Svavarsson, manager of HB Grandi’s pelagic division, said it would be tight.
"It’s clear that we are going to have our hands full for the next few weeks to catch the company’s quotas, but we’re confident that we can do it,’" he said in a blog post on the company website.
Svavarsson said the strike had hurt some markets, but that roe prices in Japan were currently high and that most of its product would be sourced for that market.
While fishing has resumed, Icelandic catch won’t be available in the United Kingdom until next week, according to the Grimsby Telegraph. The town of Grimsby handles approximately 70 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.K., and the strike had caused prices to increase as distributors scrambled to find other sources of fish. The Guardian (U.K.) reported that Iceland’s cod supplies to Grimsby were down 75 percent during the strike, with haddock similarly affected.
The disruption in supply chains caused by the strike may have longer-lasting consequences, according to the Financial Times. Martyn Boyers, chief executive of Grimsby Fish Market, told the newspaper that Iceland may have lost market share it will have a tough time regaining. During the strike, some of the processors at the market switched to alternative sources for fresh fish, or had substituted fresh with frozen and defrosted fish from Norway and Russia, Boyers said.
Iceland’s status as a premium supplier of seafood was also hurt in the United States, after importers switched to buying from other producers including Alaska, Canada and Norway, the Financial Times reported.
“Iceland has lost market share — they have been out of the market a long time,” Eric Kaiser, president of Aquanor Marketing, a fish importer and distributor based in Boston, told the paper. “Getting [the customers] back is going to be a challenge.”
Regaining its premium place in the market may take years, Kaiser told the Iceland Review.
“Since we started importing fish from Iceland in 1992, the supply has always been steady,” he said. “Now, for the first time, there [was] a long-term lack of products, and most of the customers have found new suppliers.”