Dear conference guests, ladies and gentelmen
It is a special honor and privilege for me to have this opportunity to address this forum on coldwater shrimp - a forum of producers, sellers and buyers, who gather here to discuss this important industry. The nations focusing the most on catching and processing coldwater shrimp (Pandalus borealis) are Canada, Greenland and Denmark, Iceland and Norway.
I wish to use this opportunity to emphasize how sustainable fishing practices have come high on the international agenda in recent years. This has led to intensive debates on what ground rules in this respect should prevail (what the minimum requirements should be). Iceland has taken an active part in elaborating these rules and standards on the international scene, including within FAO, and we have striven to adapt our national legislation to accord with international agreements on approved fishing practices and the protection of the marine environment.
You may be familiar with the recent Iceland Responsible Fisheries program - a marketing program signifying certified Icelandic responsible fisheries. I am proud to say that this effort was initiated by the seafood industry itself and supported by the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries as a response to increasing market demands for sustainable utilization of marine resources. This program, which was built on a joint Statement on Responsible Fisheries from 2007, was designed to inform buyers on how fisheries management is conducted in Iceland and also that controls would be based on the best available scientific knowledge and expertise.
Very importantly, it also states that the Government of Iceland is firmly committed to comply with international laws and agreements regarding access to marine resource and responsible fisheries in general.
Coldwater shrimp is a very sought-after delicacy. What makes this type of shrimp so popular? The physical appearance of the shrimp is attractive; in fact it is quite beautiful; it has a very good and special sweet taste, which reminds people a bit of the taste of game. Last but not least - shrimp is indeed a healthy food. These characteristics have resulted in high demand that consumers are willing to pay good prices for. Most people who are familiar with warm-water shrimp, which is in indirect market competition with coldwater shrimp, agree that the first-mentioned shrimp does not possess the same quality properties as the coldwater shrimp.
Last decade saw the total catches of coldwater shrimp in the North Atlantic being in the region of 250-400 thousand tons. Extensive changes in the quantity of shrimp at individual areas are usually not due to overfishing; instead the reason being that cod feed on shrimp as well as several other fish species.
The production of coldwater shrimp constitutes only a small fraction of the world shrimp production. The global shrimp production today is estimated to be 7 to 8 million tons both from capture and aquaculture. There exists some uncertainty about how accurate this figure is, however, shrimp production has significantly increased over the last few years.
Coldwater shrimp is only small fraction of the total production and it may be assumed that this fraction will in fact decrease in the next few years as the production of farmed shrimp (warm-water shrimp) is rapidly increasing. The largest producers of farmed shrimp are China, Indonesia, India and Thailand.
One of the factors characterizing the shrimp stocks in the North Atlantic is the extensive changes in stock biomass at the fishing grounds. At the same time the stock biomass in the Icelandic waters may decrease, the stock biomass may increase elsewhere. The shrimp fisheries in the Icelandic waters have been highly fluctuating over the years. These catches peaked during 1994-1997, during which period the catch was about 60-80 thousand tons. Recent years, however, have seen limited shrimp catches in the Icelandic waters, whereas the catches off the coast of Greenland and Canada have been substantial. These fluctuations have caused much difficulty in this sector of the fishing industry. Catches have suddenly decreased leaving producers stuck with expensive investments in terms of gear and machinery that cannot be used. A few years ago the number of shrimp processing facilities in Iceland was 20, whereas today there are only 5. This has generated increased collaboration between the countries fishing shrimp. An example of this is that in Iceland we now process shrimp for other countries, i.e. during a period where the shrimp biomass in the Icelandic waters is going through a low. Shrimp producers in Iceland and elsewhere have had to economize to a great extent in their operations in order to meet these changed circumstances.
Iceland has gathered extensive knowledge of shrimp fisheries and shrimp processing over the years. Icelandic shrimp processors have adopted the best of technology, both in terms of fishing and processing. This knowledge yields increased and steady product quality of shrimp produced in Iceland.
Ladies and gentlemen
The International Coldwater Prawn forum is very important to us all. Due to the nature of the shrimp industry collaboration between countries and other players is of utmost importance, both in processing and quality issues, and, of course, also in marketing. Through collaboration parties work toward a more steady industry, more and steady quality levels and thus yielding a more stable market price. Referring to all of these factors I have touched on in this short address, I wish you my very best in your work here today.