Norwegian suppliers struggle to find takers for over-sized skrei

Never before have fishermen landed so many large-sized skrei as this year.

High water temperatures, favorable feeding conditions and years of good stock management  haveresulted in a predicament for Norwegian fishermen: never before have they landed so many large-sized skrei as this year.

The problem? The market doesn't want them.

For several decades, marine biologists decried the overfishing of the stocks of Norwegian skrei -- or winter cod -- and urged fishermen to hold back fishing.

Over the last 10 years, mortalities dropped to the desired level, and actually been below that for certain periods of time.

The issue, however, is on the market side: there's no demand for larger-sized fish and suppliers are struggling to sell the skrei at reasonable prices.

Figures from the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organization show that the percentage of cod weighing more than 9 kg in live weight (6 kg H&G) almost doubled from 2010 until today.

Last year alone volumes of large skrei increased 3 percent. Landings of skrei smaller than 2.5 kg, on the other hand, dropped almost 10 percent since 2011.

Larger cod is best suited for the salted fish market. However, even that market will have issues swallowing the increased volumes.

This year’s skrei stock assessment is well underway. Last year, the average size of cod was recorded at around 9 kg.

Survey leader Knut Korsbrekke has seen the same trends as several others, noting these "'monster-sized' fish are significantly boosting average weight levels.

"This primarily concerns 12-13 year olds, for example from the 2004 age group," he told IntraFish sister publication Fiskeribladet Fiskaren.

This particular age group has proven to be sturdier than researchers predicted in stock models.

“We would have preferred to see a greater percentage of smaller sizes, and a more pronounced recruitment of younger age groups in spawning stocks,” Korsbrekke said.

The advantage with large cod is that they are much more productive than first-time spawners.

However, the chances for survival are the same as in a lottery. This means that large skrei and copious amounts of fish eggs are not any kind of guarantee for new generations for skrei.

After a slow start to the survey trip caused by bad weather and a few other minor disruptions, Korsbrekke is now on schedule with a new research trip.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) is set to meet in Copenhaged straight after Easter, he said.

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