Seafood boom helps ease ‘crisis’

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While Norway’s important oil and offshore industries battle what’s widely believed to be a “crisis,” the seafood industry is booming. High prices and record exports help support one local economist’s claim that the country’s overall economy isn’t all that bad.

Demand for Norwegian cod, both fresh and preserved, is higher than ever and prices are too. Here are racks of cod drying in Lofoten, mostly for export to countries fond of bacalao. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Demand for Norwegian cod, both fresh and preserved, is higher than ever and prices are, too. Here are racks of cod drying in Lofoten, mostly for export to countries fond of bacalao. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“It’s not all gloom and doom for the Norwegian economy,” Dag Aarnes, head of the economics and tax division at national employers’ organization NHO, told news bureau NTB. “Lots of businesses are maintaining high activity.”

That’s best illustrated by the fishing boats berthing along Norway’s coast that have been so full of cod this season that they’re pulling into harbours very low in the water. “It’s like a fairy tale,” Per Norum, skipper of the fishing boat Solskjær, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) as he navigated off the island of Sommarøya west of Tromsø in Northern Norway. “There are masses of fish in the water, it’s just gorgeous. It’s good to be in fishing now.”

Prices for cod have remained high despite the bountiful catch. Demand for seafood has been steadily rising for years, not least as many people cut back on consumption of meat. Norum pulled in his quota of 60 tons of cod in just two months, at a price of NOK 20 per kilo that was double that two years ago. That’s left him with an income of around NOK 1 million.

Mathias Hansen, operating chief at the BHE fish processing plant on Sommarøy, is also extremely satisfied with the recent cod fishing season, while Kurt Ludvigsen’s boat Barsund has pulled in NOK 3.5 million worth of cod in the past three months. “There’s enormous access to cod (called torsk in Norwegian).” Ludvigsen told DN. “There’s more fish out there than we manage to bring to land, the weather has been beautiful and the price is good. The better the price, the happier we are. This is the money we all need to live off of.”

This season's cod fishing season has been nothing short of fantastic, not least here off Lofoten. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

This season’s cod fishing season has been nothing short of fantastic, not least here off Lofoten. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Farther south, off scenic Lofoten and Vesterålen, fishing boats have also been returning to port loaded with torsk. The area is known for the festive kickoff of its annual fishing season, especially for the cod-like fish known as skrei, and this year has been better than ever. “I hope to bring in four tons in this haul,” Geir Sivertsen to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) last week. The skrei brought in as much as NOK 30 per kilo earlier this winter, he said, and was still fetching around NOK 23-24 this month, traditionally the last month of the season.

Norway’s seafood industry has never earned as much money as that generated during the first quarter of this year. New figures from the Norwegian Seafood Council  show that exports generated NOK 4 billion, up 18 percent over the same period last year, which also was strong. “Business is incredibly good,” Ove Johansen, an analyst at the council, told DN. While much of the cod is sold fresh, large quantities are also dried, salted and otherwise preserved for lutefisk and for exports to countries like Brazil and Spain that are fond of bacalao.

The weak krone has helped propel the seafood exports, and markets are also strong for salmon, king crab, halibut and other fish and shellfish. Norway’s cold waters yield some of the highest quality seafood in the world, while fish farming has boomed as well.

Prices for fresh cod in Europe are high after wholesale fish buyers have engaged in bidding wars to secure supplies to meet demand. Johansen said he believes Norwegian players have been good at building up markets for fresh fish in Europe, and are reaping the rewards now. “Prices are higher in euros now than they were last year, so it’s not just the weak krone at work here,” Johansen said. “We have helped create demand for fresh fish.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund