MATEY Seafood Fest Serves Up the Best of the Westman Islands

A new festival seeks to celebrate the produce and producers of Iceland’s Westman Islands. The MATEY Seafood Festival is a collaborative project between the island’s restaurateurs and food producers and will take place from September 8-10.

Restaurants, fish factories, food producers and other food industry service partners collaborate to highlight the food of the islands. With the MATEY festival, islanders hope to spotlight “one of the best culinary destinations in Iceland,” and give guests a taste of “a variety of stunning dishes” that are made solely with ingredients sourced in and around the Westmans. Leading chefs from neighbouring Nordic nations will also take part in the festival, offering their own twists on “authentic local dishes.”

Restaurants Gott, Slippurinn, Einsi Kaldi, and Næs will host menus from guest chefs Chris Golding, Leif Sørensen, Ron McKinlay, and Fjölla Sheholli and Junaid Juman, respectively, serving up local ingredients.

In addition to serving up local cuisine in Heimaey’s restaurants, the festival will also feature events in which businesses in seafood industry open their doors, give some insight into their operations, and discuss the “blue economy” that is so vital to the Westmans’ way of life.

Russia-Ukraine Conflict Means Losses for Icelandic Fishing Industry

fish fishing haddock

Icelandic seafood export companies are expected to suffer considerable losses due to the war in Ukraine, RÚV reports. The technology industry could be equally impacted by the conflict. Iceland’s Finance Minister stated he has no qualms regarding the country’s participation in economic sanctions against Russia and that Iceland must accept their potential impact.

Alþingi’s Industrial Affairs Committee held a meeting yesterday to discuss the economic impact of the war in Ukraine. Its chairman Stefán Vagn Stefánsson stated that it could be far-reaching, affecting both businesses and consumers in Iceland. The losses in the seafood industry are expected to amount to billions of Icelandic krónur, or tens of millions of US dollars.

Finance Minister supports sanctions

Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated that while the overall impact of the war on Iceland’s economy would be limited, it would affect some of Iceland’s seafood and technology companies considerably. “We must accept some impact, we have to be ready to sacrifice something in order to send a message and it remains to be seen what that [sacrifice] will be,” Bjarni stated, adding that he supported the international efforts to impose economic sanctions on Russia. “I have absolutely no doubts, and I am very happy that a very broad, far-reaching agreement has been achieved to do much more than we have done before, because it has often been criticised that some of what was done [in response to] the annexation of Crimea was too ineffectual.”

Seafood exporters shifted from Russia to Ukraine

In 2014, Russia set a ban on food imports from Iceland, along with several other countries, in response to sanctions following the annexation of Crimea.  Seafood exports made up around 90% of exports to Russia at the time. The value of Icelandic trade to Russia dropped from ISK 26 billion [$209m; €187m] in 2014 to ISK 4 billion [$32m; €29m] in 2018. In response to the ban, many Icelandic seafood companies increased exports to Ukraine, which have now been halted due to the war.

Iceland’s last government worked to increase trade with Russia, even establishing a Russian-Icelandic chamber of commerce in 2019. The focus was on technology exports, particularly in the food industry. In 2020, exports to Russia amounted to ISK 6.6 billion [$51.2m; €46.2m]. Those exports have also come to a stop now, as Russian companies buying Icelandic products are unable to pay for them in foreign currency since the ruble’s dramatic devaluation.

Capelin Catch Quotas Increased Again

first capelin in two years arriving in Eskifjörður

The Iceland Freshwater and Marine Research Institute has suggested that capelin catch quotas be increased to 127,000 tonnes. This is their final advisory estimate, based on two extensive research expeditions they consider to cover all areas of spawning capelin. The highly valuable capelin fishing resumed recently after a two-year break.

Extensive research expeditions

During the two expeditions, the IFMRI estimated that the size of the capelin spawning stock around Iceland is 650,000 tonnes. Earlier expeditions indicated that there was less capelin in Icelandic waters, leading to a smaller catch quota being issued.

In the first expedition, three ships searched for capelin January 17-20 giving data for the area south of 65°N but bad weather and sea ice affected the search north of the country. On January 26-30, a total of eight ships covered the area off the Westfjords, as well as north and northeast of Iceland.

Together, these two expeditions covered the complete area where capelin spawns. This was not the case in the December and early January expeditions so the previous data gathered does not affect this final counsel.

Suggestions for catch quotas are based on that there’s a 95% chance that the spawning stock in March will be over 150,000 tonnes considering predation. According to the latest data, the total suggested catch quotas will be 127,300 tonnes in the winter of 2020/2021 and replaces earlier catch quota suggestions.

There’s always money in the capelin stand

This is great news for Iceland’s fishing industry as capelin is a valuable fish, according to the Landsbankinn economic analysis. In the years 2012-2018, its export value was second only to Iceland’s most valuable export, cod. Capelin fishing can affect Iceland’s economy greatly, so much so that when smaller capelin quotas than anticipated were issued, Landsbankinn lowered its GDP growth forecast for 2021 from 3.4 to 3.3 %. The largest part of the capelin catch is sold to Norway in the form of fishmeal, and second-largest to Japan, which buys a substantial amount of capelin roe.

First capelin in two years

For two years in a row, no capelin quotas were issued to protect the stock. This hit particularly hard in fishing towns outside the capital area, such as in Vestmannaeyjar islands off Iceland’s south coast. The town holds about a third of the country’s capelin quotas. Mayor Íris Róbertsdóttir told RÚV that she was pleased and happy that capelin fishing was back on the agenda. They would, of course, have preferred to have even larger catch quotas, but were happy that they could resume continuity for capelin markets and keep the trade open.

The first capelin caught after the two-year break was landed January 30 in Eskifjörður, when the Greenlandic ship Polar Amaroq brought 700 tonnes of frozen capelin. According to a notice from Síldarvinnslan seafood company, the capelin looked good. There were about 40 fish to the kilo and some krill.


Icelandic Seafood Export Bypasses UK Due to Brexit Delays

fishing regulations iceland

Icelandic seafood exporters have needed to adapt to a changed situation in the UK by shipping seafood to Europe through Rotterdam instead of Immingham, Fiskifréttir newspaper reported today. Hopefully, the changes are temporary. Iceland’s seafood export to the UK is one of the issues still up for discussion in Iceland’s trade deal with the UK, which is still to be finalised.

Considerable delays and interruptions have occurred in seafood transport from the UK to countries in the European Union following the Uk’s final exit from the union at the end of last year. Icelandic shipping companies have been affected by delays and have had to adapt to the situation, especially regarding seafood products they have transported to Europe via the UK. Fresh fish has up until now been regularly shipped to Immingham in the UK, loaded on to trucks and driven to France. According to Eimskip representative Björn Einarsson, customers have stopped using the UK as a transit harbour for mainland Europe, due to delays in the Channel Tunnel and tariff issues at the UK-France border. Fresh fish is now shipping directly to Rotterdam instead of going through Europe. “People have adapted their shipping procedures so that the product goes straight to market in Europe through Rotterdam without passing through the UK.” According to Björn, this has not impacted distribution within the UK or export to the UK.

Samskip representative Þórunn Inga Ingjaldsdóttir states that it’s too soon to draw conclusions regarding the future only two weeks into the new year. “Delays surrounding Brexit were foreseen.” Exporters have been anticipating this moment for a while now as EU-UK negotiations stretched on. “We’d changed our system a while ago to be able to continue servicing our customers that ship directly to the European markets,” stated Þórunn Inga. She added that Samskip makes it clear that the situation is temporary. “We’ve worked hard to keep up delivery schedules and a high level of service with our customers and friends in the UK.”

In an interview with Viðskiptablaðið today, Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson discusses changes to Iceland-UK business relations due to Brexit. While temporary deals with the UK are in place, Guðlaugur notes that despite Brexit finally being a reality, there are still plenty of things to settle regarding trade. As part of the EEA, Iceland is bound in certain ways and until the EU’s Brexit deal was in place, EEA negotiations have been on hold.

When it comes to UK-Iceland trade negotiations, seafood is the most important. “If you were to generalise about the UK, they tend to eat fish caught by other nations while exporting the fish caught in their own fishing jurisdiction.” He mentions as an example the quintessentially British dish of fish and chips, which is, by and large, prepared using Icelandic cod. The UK is also Iceland’s largest export market for lamb. Guðlaugur Þór claimed it was important on this occasion to look at the big picture and continue working towards increased cooperation between nations in Europe, stating: “The UK needs Europe and Europe needs the UK. Cooperation is necessary for more fields than trade.” He added that the EEA states have had no trouble cooperating with the countries of the EU and therefore, there shouldn’t have to be any problems for the UK to continue to work closely with other European countries.