FRANCE has overtaken Britain as the largest buyer of Icelandic cod for the first time.
Last year, Iceland exported cod worth 17 billion kroners (£122 million) to France compared with sales worth 16 billion kroners (£115 million) to the UK.
Until 2017, UK buyers were the main recipients because cod remains the most popular white fish, especially with the fried fish trade.
But French tastes are changing. Friðrik Þór Gunnarsson, an economist at the fishing organisation SFS, told the newspaper Morgunbladid that this was a remarkable trend.
He thought the main reason was that French buyers of Icelandic fish have been very adept at buying fresh products for which they are prepared to pay the asking price.
They were also buying the high quality or more valuable varieties of cod. France was also the largest market for cod fillets, with sales worth around £80 million.
‘The environment in the market for marine products is constantly changing,’ Gunnarson added.
Another reason why the UK has slipped to second place is Brexit. He said the contraction in sales began after the pound weakened, following the referendum result in June 2016, while the kroner began to strengthen soon afterwards. This inevitably had an impact on exports.
Other industry observers think the two-month-long fishermen’s strike last year – which saw UK buyers looking to Norway to make up the shortfall – probably didn’t help either, but its impact is thought to be limited.
However, the UK remains Iceland’s biggest overseas market for Icelandic seafood of all types.