The Faroese have always depended heavily on the availability of fish as a food resource. Indeed, ever since the island nation’s slow entry into the modern age in the 19th and 20th centuries, fish has been the mainstay of exports; and overall, the export trade is something that the Faroese economy remains highly focused on.
By far the largest share of that trade consists of seafood, to a large degree exported as raw fish but also in significant amounts as semi-processed and to a lesser extent as value added products.
The Faroese seafood trade is basically structured around the twin pillars of wild caught and farmed fish, with further subcategories applicable to the highly diverse wild fish industry.
In spite of the obvious similarities and indeed commonalities between fisheries and aquaculture across much of their value chains, there are significant differences, too, not merely in the basic method of sourcing and their implications but also in historical and cultural characteristics.
In a way, you’re looking at two parallel worlds that overlap or interjoin at certain points.
For some, the seafood business may have the appearance of an old-fashioned world of its own steeped in local tradition and heritage and so on. While there’s some truth to that in some places around the world, discounting advertising imagery, it’s generally not the case in the context of a modernized fish industry such as that of the Faroe Islands.
But here’s the point: the fact remains that the business environment in which this trade operates is known as a rapidly changing one, and the Faroes is no exception to the rule.
Following the EU
Clearly, uncertainties make up a major and complex factor in the seafood industry, whether fisheries or aquaculture, whether in relation to internal business processes ranging from sourcing to sales, in the natural environment including weather and climate, in the legislative and regulatory environment, or in the marketplace, all of which is constantly influenced by variations and fluctuations from the mundane and readily foreseeable to the more dramatic such as force majeure events.
A few years ago the specter of meddling via politics loomed large in connection with a long-awaited fisheries reform in the Faroe Islands. Social issues became conflated and confused with fisheries policy issues and societal divisions tended to arise. However, with most concerns addressed after some back and forth, political risks were relegated to the rear, before global health issues instead made their way to the fore—that is, until the emergence of the current, extremely volatile situation in international relations, with war in Eastern Europe, sanctions on all sides and rapidly rising commodity prices.
The elephant in the room: Russia, up until now a major trading partner, is being subjected to economic sanctions and trade barriers and the political leadership of the Faroe Islands has expressed its willingness to follow in the footsteps of the European Union, however with some exceptions to apply to trade bans, notably food i.e. fish.
But even if Faroese fish can still be exported to buyers in Russia from that perspective, new systemic barriers in international shipping as well as in money transactions could make it cumbersome.
“Over the last decade or so, the Russian Federation became by far the most important market for wild caught pelagic fish from the Faroe Islands, and even a very significant market for Faroese farmed salmon,” said Dr. Unn Laksá, CEO of Blue Resource (Sjókovin), a not-for-profit research organization affiliated with the Faroese seafood industry.