Seafood sanctions could lead to product shortages and price increases – Seafish

Seafood industry bosses have warned of likely price rises and potential product unavailability should the UK follow the US and impose sanctions on Russian imports.

The Ukraine-invading country is a huge exporter of whitefish, with Atlantic pollock the leading species. It has estimated 30 per cent of seafood consumed in the UK could originate there.

Market leader Young’s – and others – are assessing their position as legal and moral factors emerge, with western countries keen to cut ties and hit the Russian economy hard to stifle war chest funding.

Read more:Seafood group sets out priorities for ‘one of the largest processing clusters in the Northern Hemisphere’

Now Grimsby-based Seafish, the industry authority, has examined potential implications, should there be further legislation imposed.

A spokesperson said: “The recent events playing out in Ukraine over the last few weeks are unimaginable and the impacts that this will have on us all are significant. It can seem odd to be discussing the ‘price of fish’ at a time like this, but seafood is one of the most heavily traded commodities and the horrific events taking place in Ukraine will impact on businesses and consumers in the UK, Europe and beyond.

“We’re keeping a watching brief on how this might impact on the UK seafood supply chain.”

Global estimates of whitefish production for 2022 are at approximately seven million tonnes, with Alaskan pollock accounting for almost 50 per cent of this.

Fish fingers have been highlighted by Seafish. (Image: PA)

Seafish said Russia accounts for over 40 per cent of global whitefish production, and is the primary producer of Alaskan pollock with a near 60 per cent share, while producing over 30 per cent of the global Atlantic cod supply and 25 per cent of haddock.

While the vast majority sold through Grimsby Fish Market is Icelandic, direct supply to processors in the UK retail gateway cluster is sourced from global markets.

The spokesperson said: “The UK is heavily reliant on imported whitefish. In 2020 the UK imported 432,000 tonnes with a value of almost £800m. This compares to domestic landings of cod and haddock of 47,200 tonnes in 2020.

“In order to meet consumer demand, whether in fish fingers or in fish and chips, we need to rely on imports. Russia has been an important source of these imports for almost 30 years.

“Direct imports from Russia accounted for 48,000 tonnes in 2020 but a considerable proportion of Chinese whitefish imports into the UK – which totalled 143,000 tonnes in 2020 – will also be of Russian origin. It is also likely that some Norwegian, Polish and German imports into the UK will include Russian product.

Read More Related Articles Ish Fish secures backing from Five Guys-funder and Carphone Warehouse co-founder Sir Charles Dunstone Read More Related Articles Smales is back in the black as new generation of fish and chip customers help sales surge

“The challenge is that there is not an obvious or quick substitute for this product if it is no longer available to UK businesses, and nor is there an option to simply increase supply.”

Whitefish is a highly competitive global commodity and most supply is already under contract.

The spokesperson added: “Any changes to the available supply will impact production; the products we expect to find in the supermarket freezer cabinet will either no longer be available or they will see significant price increases. Estimates are that raw material prices will increase at least by 20-30 per cent as a result of current events.”

The spokesperson added: “While no formal sanctions or trade measures against seafood have been put in place, the current global situation is expected to result in significant disruption to UK seafood processing; rising fuel prices, delays to supplies, competition for product. This inevitably will result in cost increases and are expected to translate into higher food prices for consumers. “It is impossible to predict how much prices will rise by, but they could be as high as 20 to 30 per cent.

“UK seafood businesses understand how difficult this will be, particularly for low-income families who are already struggling, so there is a great deal of work happening by businesses to find ways to minimise the impact this will have on consumers.

We’re working with the seafood industry to support them with any changes they may want to make to their supply chains in light of this situation.”

Emerging from the pandemic, margins have already been described as tight for many processors.

Wheat is also used for batter and breadcrumb production, with Russia and Ukraine combined producing a quarter of the global supply, though the UK is regarded as self-sufficient with Yorkshire and Lincolnshire the domestic bread basket.

Simon Dwyer, secretariat of Grimsby Fish Merchants’ Association. (Image: Tom Haga)

Ukraine is also the main global producer of sunflower oil.

Grimsby Fish Merchants’ Association secretariat, and a key figure in the new Seafood Grimsby and Humber Alliance, Simon Dwyer, said: “I think we are preparing ourselves for a potential recalibration of how we source whitefish in the long-term future.

“We are fortunate that historically we’ve had strong relationships with Iceland and with Norway and with the Faroes as well. So it’s also not as if we’re absolutely reliant on any fish that may or may not be originating from Russia.”

He said the UK’s phasing out of oil and gas supplies also suggested businesses and markets would have time to adapt.

Do you follow BusinessLive Humber on LinkedIn and Twitter? Click to join the conversation.

Read More Related Articles New Director General of British Chambers of Commerce to address Humber audience Read More Related Articles Seafood firm Kirwin Brothers back in the black as ‘strong rebound in demand’ boosts sales