Petits pélagiques

Tighter supplies and rising prices

he overall supplies of small pelagics will be around 11 percent lower in 2019 than in 2018. Prices for most species are expected to rise. For mackerel, prices will continue to rise from a high level, while for herring, the bottom may have been reached. Prices may go up a bit, but this is still uncertain. The outlook is not bright. Blue whiting prices will most likely go up. Capelin will be in extremely short supply, as quotas are set at zero in the Barents Sea.

At the North Atlantic Seafood Forum in Bergen in March, Kontali presented forecasts for pelagic landings in 2019. They expect total pelagic landings to fall by 11 percent compared to 2018, to 20.5 million tonnes. In 2018 landings were the highest since 2011 and anchovy landings particularly went up by 47 percent. Anchovy landings in South America are expected to be somewhat weaker in 2019 than in 2018. Landings of other major species (herring, mackerel, capelin, and blue whiting) are all expected to be weaker this year.

There will be no capelin fishing in the Barents Sea this year. The Norwegian sales organization Sildelaget announced that the 2019 capelin quota in the Barents Sea, set in an agreement between Norway and the Russian Federation, would be set at zero. In 2018, the quota was set at 205?000 tonnes. Iceland has not been able to set a capelin quota so far.

As much as 72 percent of the capelin caught in the Barents Sea in 2018 went for human consumption. Capelin caught in Icelandic waters went mainly for reduction (fish oil and fish meal) and only 11 percent went for human consumption. Lower catches of North Atlantic pelagic species has made it more difficult to secure raw material for fishmeal and fish oil production, and raw material prices have gone up. During 2018, blue whiting prices increased significantly, but then fell back to previous levels at the end of the year. The blue whiting quota was reduced from 421?100 tonnes in 2018 to 356?251 tonnes in 2019. In 2019 there will be a reduced supply of blue whiting, and prices are consequently expected to go up again. Other small pelagic species like sand eel are also not doing so well. The Norwegian sand eel quota was reduced from 70?000 tonnes in 2018 to 55?000 tonnes in 2019.

The United Kingdom stands to increase its landings of small pelagics after Brexit, according to PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC), who commented on this during the North Atlantic Seafood Forum. UK landings of pelagics could increase by as much as 600?000 tonnes, consisting mainly of herring and mackerel. This does not help the British consumer, because these are not fish species the British consumer eats. In the UK market, it is about fish and chips, i.e. cod and haddock. The consequence of this could be an upsurge in trade across the channel, or in other directions. The United Kingdom access to EU27 markets is conditional on EU27 access to UK fishing grounds. Whether that is likely is still unknown, as negotiations between the European Union (Member Organization) and the United Kingdom are still ongoing.


The Norwegian mackerel quota for 2019 decreased by 19.4 percent, to 152?811 tonnes. The lower mackerel quotas will probably push prices further up from the record levels in 2018. The lower supplies pushed first-hand prices up from an average of NOK 9.57 per kg in 2017 to NOK 12.85 per kg in 2018. This year, it is expected that prices will continue to rise. Africa has for long been an interesting market for small pelagics, and for Japan, Africa is now a major market for its mackerel exports. As much as 50 percent of Japan’s 2018 mackerel exports went to Africa, mainly to Nigeria (55?500 tonnes), Egypt (45?700 tonnes) and Ghana (25?700 tonnes). East and South East Asia accounted for about 40 percent of Japan’s mackerel. The main reason for this increase in exports to Africa may be that European fishers are focusing on the larger and more expensive mackerel, which mainly goes to Japan and other Asian markets. The Japanese mackerel is smaller and cheaper than the European mackerel. Japan itself imports a lot of mackerel and about 90 percent of these imports come from Norway.


The Norwegian fishery for Atlanto-Scandic herring was off to a relatively good start this past January, with reasonably good catches in the north of the country. But landings declined in February, as the fish was standing deep in the sea. Unfavourable weather conditions worsen the situation. Herring prices have been falling since May 2018, and in March 2019 reached NOK 4.02 per kg, compared to NOK 4.61 per kg in March 2018. Observers believe the bottom has been reached, but the experts are not expecting a quick nor strong recovery. The reason for that is that the quota for Norwegian spring-spawning (NSS) herring was raised from 304?500 tonnes in 2018 to 429?650 tonnes in 2019. The North Sea herring quota decreased from 179?391 tonnes in 2018 to 114?677 tonnes in 2019. Total landings of herring in 2019 are expected to be about 1.2–1.3 million tonnes, a slight reduction compared to 2018, according to Kontali. Cold storage holdings are higher this year, so this might help keep prices fairly stable at a low level.

Anchovy/Sardines/Blue Whiting

The sardine and anchovy season in Peru opened on the 1 March, but no catches were registered in the first week. The quota is set at 216?000 tonnes, but it may be adjusted later, after a technical evaluation. In India, the oil sardine sector is seeing the combined effect of El Niño and global warming. Indian catches of oil sardines went to an all-time low in 2016, when 46?000 tonnes were landed. It recovered briefly in 2017, but it is now expected that another El Niño will affect catches negatively in 2019. Blue whiting catches in the North Atlantic thrived in March. In spite of unfavourable weather hampering the fishing in the beginning of the month, catches increased sharply in the middle of March, and on 18 March, the single best day of the season was reported, with total landings of 26?360 tonnes. Most of this fish was landed in Norway, with some volume going to Denmark.


Norwegian exports of frozen whole mackerel in 2018 dropped by 26.5 percent, to 238?200 tonnes in 2018. Export prices went up significantly though, so the decline by value was only 9.7 percent to NOK 3.5 billion. The largest importer of Norwegian mackerel has been China for several years, and this is still so, but exports to China decreased from 71?100 tonnes in 2017 to 41?400 tonnes in 2018 (-41.8 percent). The Republic of Korea was the second largest market for whole frozen mackerel from Norway in 2018 (25?600 tonnes). Chinese exports of whole frozen mackerel weakened by 10.6 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, to 287?900 tonnes. The largest decline was registered in exports to Indonesia, which fell by 27.9 percent to 56?400 tonnes. There was a reduction in Asia’s imports of whole round frozen mackerel in 2018 compared to 2017. Asian imports amounted to 250?000 tonnes in 2017, while in 2018 they dropped to just over 200?000 tonnes. Four countries (China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Viet Nam) accounted for 84 percent of the total import volume, but all except Viet Nam imported less in 2018 than in 2017. Russian Federation imports of frozen mackerel fell by 37 percent to 60?000 tonnes in 2018. The Faroe Islands are still the main supplier, accounting for about two thirds of the total.

African imports of frozen mackerel fell in 2018 to 110?000 tonnes, from 200?000 tonnes in 2017. The EU28 was the main supplier but it experienced reduced exports to Africa, from 150?000 tonnes to just over 50?000 tonnes (-67 percent). Norway maintained its exports of frozen mackerel to Africa at 50?000 tonnes, even though Norwegian export prices were higher than EU28 export prices. Norwegian herring exports also decreased somewhat in 2018 compared to 2017, both in volume (-7.5 percent to 131?200 tonnes) and in value (-8.5 percent to NOK 885 million). The main markets were in North Africa and Eastern Europe, with Egypt as the largest importer, accounting for 18.4 percent of total exports, followed by Ukraine (18 percent) and Lithuania (16.8 percent). There was a strong (+13.1 percent) increase in the Russian Federation’s exports of whole frozen herring in 2018. The most notable change was a 100 percent increase in exports to Nigeria, although the total volume was only 16?800 tonnes in 2018. The dominant market was again China, which accounted for 79.4 percent of the total Russian Federation exports of frozen herring, and imported almost 180?000 tonnes during the review period.

Supplies of herring fillets to the EU28 market rose by 6 percent to over 120?000 tonnes in 2018. Norway was the main supplier, with 80 percent of the volume. Norway was also the main supplier of round frozen herring to the EU28, accounting for over 51?000 tonnes out of the total 76?000 tonnes. Faroese shipments of frozen herring to the EU28 dropped by 68 percent, but the Faroe Islands supplied as much as 98 percent of the total frozen herring imports into the Russian Federation.


Overall supplies of small pelagics will be down in 2019, but there are great disparities from species to species. Consequently, there will be variations in price developments also. Mackerel will be in short supply and mackerel prices are expected to continue to rise in all markets. Herring will be more abundant. Herring prices have been very low, but some observers hope that they will start to increase soon. That is still uncertain as cold storage holdings are high and the outlook for catches is reasonably good.