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Aquaculture exports grew nearly a fourth in 2021

The aquaculture sector generated just over ISK 35bn in export revenues in 2021, nearly 3% of Iceland’s total export revenues for the year. Farmed salmon was the second most valuable commercial species during the year, after cod, which stands head and shoulders above the rest. The outlook is for strong growth in aquaculture in coming years, both in Iceland and abroad.

According to recent figures from Statistics Iceland (SI), a total of 53,000 tonnes of farmed fish were produced in 2021, an increase of 31% year-on-year in volume terms. Salmon accounted for some 90% of that volume, while Arctic charr and rainbow trout constituted most of the other tenth. According to the website, about half of Iceland’s aquaculture activity in 2021 took place in the West Fjords and a third in the East Fjords. These two regions combined therefore account for the vast majority of aquaculture in Iceland, although there is some activity on the Reykjanes Peninsula and in Northeast Iceland as well.

Farmed fish exports generated ISK 35.4bn in gross export revenues in 2021, or 2.9% of Iceland’s total export revenues. This represented a YoY increase of 23% in ISK terms. For comparison, wild catch generated ISK 293bn in revenues last year. Export revenues from aquaculture have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, after crossing the ISK 10bn threshold for the first time in 2017.

As the chart shows, salmon is Iceland’s dominant aquaculture species by a large margin, with export revenues totalling ISK 30bn in 2021. In just a few years, farmed salmon have overtaken other key commercial fish species in terms of export value, and presumably, only cod generated more revenue in 2021. This could change in 2022, however, as capelin will probably be in the running for second place after the most bountiful capelin season in a decade.

Iceland’s aquaculture sector is projected to grow strongly in 2022 and the years to come. According to the report on developments and prospects for Icelandic fishing and aquaculture, issued by the Ministry of Industries and Innovation in 2021, production in floating marine pens is far below the amount provided for in issued operating permits. Furthermore, at the time the report was published, a number of applications for aquaculture permits were still pending. Moreover, land-based salmon farming is likely to grow apace in coming years, as Iceland is well suited to this type of aquaculture.

In our macroeconomic forecast from late January, we projected that marine product export volumes would increase by nearly 10% YoY in 2022, in spite of the reduced cod quota for the current fishing year. This is due largely to growing aquaculture exports, as well as the strong capelin season. A rough estimate suggests that revenues from aquaculture exports could come to about ISK 45bn this year and approach ISK 60bn by 2024, if our forecast materialises.

It appears likely that farmed fish will account for the majority of the increased global fish consumption projected for the next several years. According to the OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook report for 2021-2030, aquaculture is forecast to grow by over a fifth in the current decade, from 84 million tonnes in 2020 to over 103 million tonnes by 2030. On the other hand, wild catch for human consumption is forecast to grow by only 5% over the same period. Aquaculture overtook wild catch as the main worldwide source of marine produce for human consumption in 2016, and according to the OECD-FAO forecast it will account for 58% of all fish consumption on Earth by the end of this decade. Developments in Iceland are therefore in line with global trends, and aquaculture’s share in Iceland’s export revenues appears set to continue growing steadily throughout the 2020s.


Jón Bjarki Bentsson

Chief economist