Processing methods

Processing methods


Fresh haddock iced in a storage box

Photo: Þorgeir Baldursson

Conservation of marine resources together with their economic and efficient utilization are the cornerstones of effective fisheries management.

Responsible disposition of the catch is closely linked to these principles. This involves direct use and processing for human food but also processing for industrial purposes without undue waste or discards. Utilization of some stocks for human food is sometimes limited by economic considerations, such as the cost of processing against product value on the market.

Icelandic fisheries management does not include any rules on catch disposition but discards are punishable by law. In general, the disposition of the catch is subject to market forces and shows a marked difference from one fish species to another.

Disposition is the term used to account for the catch as it is used for various types of processing. It is normally calculated on basis of catch weight. The Fisheries Association of Iceland and, lately, the Directorate of Fisheries have been responsible for maintaining records on disposition.

Going back in history, it appears that salted cod replaced stockfish as the most important fish product exported from Iceland about the year 1780 and during the 19th century Icelanders were making saltfish in a satisfactory manner, eventually gaining a strong foothold on the South European market and making Icelandic bacalao famous for quality to this day. The age of quick freezing entered in the 1930s and quickly replaced more primitive methods of freezing, making it possible to export good quality products from a wide range of fish species. Today, three basic methods of processing prevail: Quick freezing, salting and preservation of fresh fish in ice.

For each fish species, the changes in disposition from one year to another bear witness to changes in market conditions, but over a longer time they reflect changes in processing technology and the economic performance of each processing sector. Over the past decade many such changes have taken place, and even in the past five years some distinct trends are apparent.

  • In the groundfish fisheries, classified as demersal fish but excluding flatfish, the major trend in recent years has been a proportional increase in fresh fillet processing. Saltfish production has decreased in recent years. Exports of wetfish, i.e. iced whole fish, have increased significantly in the past two years.
  • For various flatfish, the major trends in the past decade have been a proportional increase in fresh fillet exports but also in the export of whole iced fish.
  • In the pelagic fisheries for herring and capelin, industrial processing for fishmeal and oil is still predominant, but frozen processing of whole herring and fillets is increasing rapidly, especially frozen at sea processing.
  • In the shrimp and nephrops fisheries, land based freezing is predominant..