High prices drove UK to import less haddock and cod in 2022, but pay more for it

A pile of fillets of whitefish.

The United Kingdom imported less cod and haddock in 2022 than it did in 2021, but higher prices drove up the total money spent on the two species.

Data for 2022, presented by U.K. data and trade organization Seafish, shows imports of cod, the country’s most-popular whitefish, dropped 12 percent in volume compared to 2021, from 96,373 metric tons (MT) to 84,803 MT. Despite the drop in volume, total value of cod imports increased by 15 percent from GBP 490.3 million (USD 603.8 million, EUR 556.9 million) in 2021 to GBP 564.1 million (USD 697.7 million, EUR 640.7 million) in 2022. That increase in value was directly related to higher prices – Seafish data indicates the average price per kilogram went from GBP 5.09 (USD 6.26, EUR 5.78) to GBP 6.65 (USD 8.18, EUR 7.55), an increase of 31 percent. 

The U.K.'s second most-popular whitefish, haddock, also saw drops in volume but a rise in how much the country spent. The U.K. imported 54,720 MT of haddock in 2022, an 11 percent decline from the 61,434 MT it imported in 2021. Once again, despite the drop in volume, the value rose – from GBP 198.1 million (USD 243.9 million, EUR 225 million) in 2021 to GBP 234.1 million (USD 288.3 million, EUR 265.9 million) in 2022, an increase of 18 percent. That value increase was again coupled with an rise in price per kilogram, as the average price went from GBP 3.11 (USD 3.83, EUR 3.53) per kilogram in 2021 to GBP 4.28 (USD 5.27, EUR 4.86) in 2022, an increase of 22 percent. 

As cod and haddock imports dropped in volume, imports of pollock – which is cheaper than both cod and haddock – rose by 31 percent. The U.K. imported 25,954 MT of pollock in 2022, a 31 percent increase from the 19,861 MT imported in 2021. Value-wise, the U.K. also spent more on pollock in 2022, at GBP 88.5 million (USD 108.9 million, EUR 100.5 million) in 2022, an increase of 71 percent from the GBP 51.7 million (USD 63.6 million, EUR 58.7 million) of 2021. The price per kilogram of pollock sold in the U.K. increased from GBP 2.60 (USD 3.20, EUR 2.95) in 2021 to GBP 3.41 (USD 4.19, EUR 3.87) in 2022, up 31 percent. 

Combined, the value of imports of the three species reached GBP 885.7 million (USD 1.09 billion, EUR 1 billion), a 20 percent increase over the GBP 740.1 million (USD 911.4 million, EUR 840.7 million) spent in 2021. That total makes up 86.2 percent of the total value of imported demersal fish imports to the U.K. in 2022, collectively worth GBP 1.03 billion (USD 1.26 billion, EUR 1.16 billion).

Restaurants in the U.K., particularly fish-and-chip shops, have been hurt by high prices for demersal species, forcing them to raise prices and look for alternative whitefish species.

The National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) recently partnered with Pacific NorthWest Seafood to encourage fish-and-chip shops to use Pacific hake as an alternative to cod considering the latter species high price. Five fish-and-chip shops offered customers a chance to try the new species, and according to NFFF President Andrew Crook, they were then asked to fill out a survey.

Over 80 percent of customers ranked the flavor of the fish a 4 out of 5 or higher, and 50 percent gave it a 5 out of 5. Around 75 percent of customers said they would like to buy Pacific hake if it was on the menu, and half said they would “definitely” choose it.

The NFFF also hosted a workshop on 27 March so fish-and-chip operators can try Pacific hake, “a new source of fish for the industry,” Crook said.

Separately, the U.K. Department for Food and Rural Affairs sponsored a workshop on 29 March to find ways of promoting domestically caught species in fish-and-chip outlets, Crook told SeafoodSource. 

According to the Seafish data, the U.K. imports the majority of its seafood, including most of its cod, haddock, and pollock, which make up almost a quarter of the GBP 3.6 billion (USD 4.43 billion, EUR 4.08 billion) in seafood the country imported in 2022. 

“It is very difficult to get customers to try new species as we have such a long heritage that their fish choice is engrained into them at an early age, but with a marketing budget behind it we could see more interest,” Crook said.    

Photo courtesy of Seafish 


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