In the Faroe Islands, bumper season in pelagic fisheries and salmon farming outshines current decline in domestic groundfish fisheries — while the reopening of old distant-water fishing grounds promises relief for struggling vessels.
With huge amounts of pelagic fish to catch — roughly on par with record breaking quantities fished in 2006 yet more valuable this time around — parts of the Faroese fishing industry are busy like never before. Add a thriving aquaculture sector that has grown at high pace in recent years, making farmed Atlantic salmon the biggest selling product of the Faroe Islands, at an annual 1.8 billion dkk (241.4 million eur), representing 36 percent of total seafood exports of 5 bn dkk (670.6 m eur) in 2012 figures.
Even assuming the export figures for other species were to rise comparatively in 2013, salmon will in all likelihood retain the number one spot. Back in 2007, cod was the single species that would bring in most export revenues, followed by saithe and salmon, which began to rise in earnest from 2008 and onwards. Since 2010, however, North Atlantic mackerel has represented the fastest growing sales, reaching 827 m dkk (110.9 m eur) in 2012. This year, meanwhile, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting catch and export figures are expected to rise sharply.
Now, with controversies surrounding the mackerel and herring fisheries, some industry leaders have expressed concern that long-term trade relations with the European Union and Norway could be in jeopardy because of Faroese insistence on an increased share of the scientifically recommended total allowable catch (TAC) for the two species in the Northeast Atlantic.
In the case of mackerel, the Faroes and Iceland were left out of the NEAFC (North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission) coastal states agreement, with their demands of change in the allotment of quotas dismissed as unreasonable. The two countries thus unilaterally set their own respective quotas — the Faroese fixing theirs at 125,852 tonnes for 2013 — amid protests from the EU and Norway.
‘Higher abundance’:A similar scenario unfolded concerning herring, however with only the Faroe Islands left out of the agreement — the Faroese position that the quota sharing arrangement should be changed to reflect today’s territorial distribution of the species was again dismissed. While the EU, Norway, Russia, and Iceland agreed on a joint arrangement excluding the Faroe Islands, the Faroese unilaterally set their 2013 quota at 105,230 tonnes.
“During the last decade, there have been major changes in the distribution of herring in the Northeast Atlantic,” Jacob Vestergaard, Minister of Fisheries of the Faroe Islands said in a statement. “The distribution of herring has shifted in a southwesterly direction, leading to an increased proportion of herring feeding in Faroese waters during the summer. Herring has also been observed to feed in Faroese waters for a longer period than previously. Prolonged fishery in the Faroese zone has been reported for several years, and these last years, herring has been fished in Faroese waters from May to late November. The abundance of herring in Faroese waters has made fishing for other pelagic species increasingly difficult due to unavoidable by-catches of herring.”
Mr. Vestergaard added: “Survey and fishery data clearly indicate that the summer distribution and duration of herring abundance in Faroese waters is higher than seen in neighboring waters. However, the 5-percent Faroese share of the herring stock is significantly smaller than that of any other coastal state.”
As for blue whiting, however, an agreement was reached with the joint quota totaling 619,000 tonnes, of which the Faroese are allotted 154,614 tonnes; the quota has increased with the recovery of the blue whiting stock — a trend that looks set to continue.
Logistical challenges: For the Faroese, all of this means that 2013 is looking gigantic in the pelagic business as three species will be caught in high quantities. Throughout the year, the islanders are expected to fish just about 300,000 tonnes of mackerel, herring and blue whiting, overwhelmingly most of it in Faroese waters.
Then there are possibly hundreds of thousands of tonnes of blue whiting to be caught by foreign vessels in the same waters — a large chunk of the joint international quota is likely to be fished here—and the implications are enormous.
How many modern, high-capacity fishing vessels will it take to bring all of that fish in? Unlike seven years ago, most of the fish will now be processed as human grade food—will two land based factories and two pelagic fishing vessels fitted with a factory do the job? And how about ports, shipping, and logistics — will the Faroese be able to handle it all, do they have sufficient cold storage capacity, for example?
“Yes, the amounts will be very large,” Mr. Vestergaard told the Faroe Business Report, “and hopefully we will be able to handle it without problems. We do of course have fishing vessels fitted with processing factories and we have two highly efficient factories on shore. The question remains whether it will be necessary to have motherships at the fishing grounds to accommodate the pressure and complement the existing infrastructure.”
Since last year, the Faroese have invested heavily in upgrades to help make sure they can efficiently catch, process, store and move large amounts of fish— replacing older and smaller vessels with newer and larger, expanding harbor facilities, and doubling the country’s cold storage capacity.
Dry salting? Difficulties in the groundfish business, meanwhile, have surfaced in recent years as fishermen have caught less while at the same time market prices have been falling in line with declining purchasing power in key markets. Few will argue that much of the conditions experienced have to do with the ongoing financial crisis which erupted in 2008.
As for decline in the domestic groundfish fishery, important commercial fish stocks such as haddock and saithe have showed signs of weakness with low recruitment while cod, however, appears to be in better shape lately.
Other explanations for the woes in the domestic whitefish sector have also been voiced, one being that some of the fleet categories are overcrowded and thereby lead to destructive competition among fishing boats; another, that the abundance of pelagic species, most notably mackerel, may have caused a decline in groundfish.
The latter idea was put into question after the announcement that scientific research at the Faroe Marine Research Institute (Havstovan) had found no proof of any direct correlation between the current state of groundfish stocks and the abundance of mackerel. The belief remains buoyant, however, that some significant correlation may still exist in this connection, whose causality is yet to be scientifically demonstrated.
Meanwhile, the notion appears to be vindicated by the Ministry of Fisheries that the number of oceangoing longliners and trawlers with fishing licenses limited to Faroese waters has grown beyond economic and ecological viability. A decision has thus been made to award 3,200 tonnes of cod in the Flemish Cap — an international area located east of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada — to domestic trawlers and longliners.
The news brought back memories from the old days when the Faroese used to fish in those regions using the classic conservation method known as dry salted — for which there is still a market today, according to industry insiders.
“If you’re going to the Flemish Cap, you either equip your boat with freezing facilities — or you opt for dry salting, much like in the early days,” one vessel owner told public radio station ÚF.