The New Face of Cod

International Markets and Products Have Changed Considerably since 1992

The international markets for cod are now a whole lot different than they were 25 years ago.

The last time Newfoundland and Labrador cod was a substantial export was prior to the groundfish moratorium in 1992. Pre-moratorium, frozen cod block was the main product being churned out by N.L. fishplants. Jump ahead two-and-half decades and the world groundfish/whitefish market is almost unrecognizable compared to the cod industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This was one of the major topics outlined at the recent cod conference held in Gander by the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI).

The conference, entitled Cod — Building the Fishery of the Future, was aimed at bringing together industry stakeholders to examine N.L. cod in the global context of market demand and supply, as well as cod product buyers’ needs and expectations. It also examined what others — in Iceland, Norway, and Alaska — are doing to harvest cod and similar species and turn them into products for world markets.

In order to understand N.L.’s potential place in the global whitefish market, the province’s current, fledgling cod fishery output numbers need to first be examined. As a result of recent expanded N.L. quotas, a total of about 20,000 tonnes of cod was harvested in 2016 — landed at 337 ports from all NAFO areas, including 2J3KL, 3PS and the Gulf. More specifically, about 10,000 tonnes of cod was landed in in the Northern cod area of 2J3KL and this was expected to grow to 12,100 tonnes in 2017.

So how how does this compare to the total global catch of cod?

One of the conference’s speakers, Todd Clark of Endeavour Seafood, told the delegates that the current harvest of cod worldwide is in the range of 1.24 million tonnes — dominated by Norway, Russia and Iceland.

Both Norway and Iceland have long been identified as the major competitors that a revitalized Newfoundland and Labrador cod fishery will be up against.

Norway is currently landing about 412,000 tonnes of cod — with 65 per cent being fresh.

Iceland is producing about 240,000 tonnes a year, with 40 per cent being for the fresh fish market.

Clark noted that as the cod resource has been improving off the shores of N.L., it has also been improving in other areas of the north Atlantic. “The cod resource in the northeast Atlantic is better than it has been in years.”

In the pre-moratorium days, cod was the principal whitefish species on the market. However, much has changed. Right now, two aquaculture-raised species have flooded the international whitefish market. Tilapia farms are currently producing 6.5 million tonnes of whitefish product, while the pangasius catfish accounts for three million tonnes of product. These two species were not on anybody’s radar in 1992.

Another commercial groundfish species that has recently appeared in worldwide whitefish markets is Alaskan pollock. This fishery in the northern U.S. state is pumping around 1.6 million tonnes into the marketplace and along with tilapia and pangasius, has occupied the market niche that was once dominated by N.L. cod block three decades ago.

The conference attendees also got an overview of the Icelandic coastal fishery from inshore fishermen Axel Helgason, which is prosecuted by vessels under 15 metres. This was done in comparison to the 2J3KL fishery off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.

For the 2016 N.L. 2J3KL fishery:

  • 9,644 tonnes of cod were landed
  • The harvesting involved 1,600 enterprises
  • It took place over three-four months
  • Majority of cod was landed in over 200 ports
  • About 80 per cent was harvested using gillnets
  • Total value was $11.3 million

In comparison, for the 2016 Iceland coastal fishery:

  • 8,514 tonnes of cod were landed
  • The harvesting involved 664 enterprises
  • It took place over four months
  • Majority of cod was landed in 50-80 ports
  • All of the cod was harvested using auto/handlines
  • Total value was $23.9 million

As Helgason explained, the rules surrounding the Icelandic coastal fishery are not all that different than the N.L. fishery. A 2017 under-15 metre coastal fishing licence involved:

  • Stipulation for owner operation only
  • Harvesters can only fish fours days a week
  • Use of no more than four automatic jigging machines
  • Day limit of 650 kilograms of gutted cod
  • Total 2017 quota of 9,200 tonnes

Kerry Hann

Managing Editor of The Navigator Magazine.

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