ATH: Talað orð gildir
Ladies and gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure to be here with you today.
Every time I meet fish people from the North Atlantic I cannot avoid the notion that the nations living on the shores of the North Atlantic are forming an ever closer relationship. It is built on a common view of life, ancient kinship and trade as well as common interests. The fact is that our cultures have very strong attachments to the sea. We live by the sea and our livelihoods are strongly linked to the sea. Our cultures are marked by closeness with the forces of nature – the source of our livelihoods. And despite technology and computers this has not really changed.
Yet, things are not what they used to be. Making a living from the sea means intervention into the sensitive food webs that exist in the ocean. That cannot be avoided. With increased environmental conciousness all around the world, our sector, -fisheries-, have been subject to ever more scrutiny in terms of treating marine resources carefully so as to minimize the harmful effects that fishing can have on the environment. All that is good news as long as the reasoning is sound. I belive that we in Iceland, and most of the serious fisheries operators in our part of the world, are generally doing a good job of accommodating environmental concerns in our fishing management operations.
Closer to home, Iceland now has in place a binding “catch rule“ for some of the main commercial fish stocks, which greatly redcuces the temptation to disregard caution and scientific advice in face of economic hardship – a well known political problem around the world. I am proud to say that the two times I have decided catch quotas for our fishing fleet, I have followed the scientific expert advice 100% for all species. And belive me. That is progress.
Moreover, despite the fact that our ITQ based system is not perfect in every way and is constantly under revision, we have data to show that it basically works: Landing figures reflect pretty well the quota decisions, and available evidence suggests that cheating in the system is not a big problem. Despite ups and downs in this regard we believe that a culture of self-policing is taking roots in the Icelandic fisheries management system.
There is no question that the ITQ-system has led to a transformation of the industry: From quantity mentality to that of quality and value. To me, plans that are underway for building a new generation of icefish trawlers by HB Grandi Ltd and other companies says it all: Fish handling and storing systems on board are designed to ensure optimum quality of every fish coming on board as well as ensuring full use of all parts of the fish previously called by-products or even “waste“.
Fishery products constitute 12-13% of our GDP and some 40% of exported goods. But the incentives created by the fisheries management system aided by technology and automation, have reduced the workforce directly involved in fishing and fish processing to only 5.3% of the total. With techological developments already on the horizon this figure is likely to go down further still.
I make note of the fact that here in Humberside you have witnessed a similar trend, a decline in the number of fish processors, particularly small traditional processors. Yet you are being innovative and I note that you have been awarded the European Protected Geographical Indication (PGL) designation for your traditional smoked fish products. We are proud that most of the raw material for these products comes from Icelandic cod and haddock.
This led me to think about the future of the wild fish we are catching and processing. Wild fish is fast becoming a minority item on the world‘s fish table with aquaculture providing the bulk. Already in Britain more than 50% of the fish in retail comes from aquaculture. In my view we should be joining hands in finding what is called “niche markets“, something traditional, something special and highly valued. Wild-prey fish if you like . And having a PGL designation is a very important step in that direction. The UK market, being one of the most sophisticated fish markets in the world is a very important partner for Icelandic fish exporters. Perhaps your world famous “fish and chips“ could beome a global product for niche markets around the world, even with a PGL designation.
Icelandic fishery products are now truly global and sold to over 80 countries worldwide. However, I can assure you that we have every intention to cultivate the business relationships with our tradititional partners. We still have a lot of fish to export even if our population is growing fast and that our million tourists per year are now eating an ever bigger chunk of our fish production locally.
Well, Tonight I have dedicated fish merchants in my audience.
It is a standard joke in Nordic circles, that only one of the Nordic countries knows anything about marketing – and that is Denmark. The rest of us should be producing the goods land letting the Danes do the marketing. Not only can they export pork and beer at premium prices but they also import a lot of fish for re-exporting at higher prices. So, we have a lot to learn from them.
Our nobelprize winner in literature, Halldór Laxness, wrote a book where the main character og the story was Iceland´s greatest fish merchant, Óskar Halldórsson, who struck it rich in era of the Herring Bonanza early in the last century by exporting herring salted in barrels.
He was one of Icelands Great Speculators, wore his three piece suit and bowler hat every day, carrying a walking stick with an ebony handle. Actually his peers called him the Speculator of the Speculators.
But herring, being what it always has been, a very unpredictable creature, both made Mr. Halldórsson very rich and then very poor. Many times over. But despite his many bankrupcies he never forgot to pay his debts, some even a few decades later.
So, even if we Icelanders have never been anything close to our friends the Danes in terms of marketing skills, this period of the Speculators in Icelandic history has an aura of romantism and excitement that struck a cord with the national conciousness. Perhaps the storming of the financial markets during the “bubble years“ as we now call them was in part a legacy of the Herring Speculators. At least the metods they used were pretty similar. Now, we hopefully have learned that markteting fish, or financial products, for that matter, takes a lot of skill and a lot of patience so as to build long term relationships built on trust.
As part of the Icelandic Sagas we do have one book written around 1240, called the „King´s Mirror“. It is basically a guide for merchants and has the English Title: “The Vikings´ Guide to Good Business“. There is really nothing new there and most of its contents are already being taught in modern business shools around the world. Be cautious, be prudent, choose good company, keep your table well, be cheerful and light hearted, etc. So, the trading side of the Vikings was a bit differnent from the savage side of their operations.
As we are talking about developments and the changes in our industry there is a good reminder in this how difficult it is to foresee develoments in the marketplace and what is going to happen next. In the Vikings‘ Guide Book, under a chapter called “Adopt good customs“ we find this passage: “ And if you want to perfect your knowledge, master all languages, but above all Latin and French, for those languages can be used in most places. But do not forget your own language either“.
So, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a good reminder that life is more of a journey than a destination as the Chineese pointed out a very long time ago. As we politicians know all too well the only certainty we have is that the world is constantily changing and that we change with it.
I wish you all success in your endevours.
Thank your for your attention.