GRIMSBY is poised to set up closer business and cultural links with Akureyri, one of Iceland's largest and most important fishing ports.
A civic delegation from a north-east Icelandic town flew into the Humber today for a three-day visit to the port which both sides hope will be more than just a traditional goodwill tour.
The Icelandic delegation was led by the Mayor of Akuryeri, Sigrun Bjork Jacobsdottir and which also included senior business leaders and heads of the local fishing industry.
The two ports will sign a historic agreement of friendship which is expected to become a prelude to a full town twinning arrangement, probably some time next year. The significance of the visit was given a powerful boost by the arrival in Grimsby of Iceland's Ambassador to Britain, Sverrir Haukur Gunlaugsson, who is expected to prepare the ground for any future fishing trade talks.
The Icelanders were taken on a tour of the fish market this morning and entertained with the traditional poached haddock breakfast where they were given a warm welcome by Bill Hobson, chairman of the Grimsby Fish Merchants' Association. Mr Hobson said he expected a positive outcome to come from the visit which he hoped would benefit the fish trade in both countries.
Later they will see local port and industrial facilities along with the site of the new Humber Seafood Institute now under construction on the town's showpiece Europarc.
This is the first official Icelandic visit to Grimsby for some years and comes at a critical time for fish processors on the Humber. Iceland has just introduced a huge cut in its annual cod catch quota (from 194,000 tonnes to around 130,000 tonnes) and many merchants are worried about the long term impact this will have on fish prices. Grimsby would like to get more fish from Iceland and, while cod is somewhat on the restricted list at the moment, there are real possibilities with haddock and other varieties which are not threatened by overfishing. The Icelandic Group through Coldwater Seafoods and Seachill has major investment in Grimsby, employing over 1,600 people in two modern processing factories and Grimsby business chiefs would like to see more of that.
But the new fishing restrictions will also affect Iceland's trawling and fish processing industries and towns like Akureryi are keen to forge new trade links to offset any losses from the cod reduction.
The Icelandic government is ploughing millions of kronas into the rebuilding of Akureyri Airport, not just to boost tourism and links to the north, but to make it easier for the port to export its fish products.
Akureyri has a population of just 17,000 people and is the second largest town in Iceland. The region is well known for it long established food processing industry based on fishing and agriculture, all three playing a pivotal role in the economy. Two of the largest fishing companies in Iceland are located in Akureyri as well as several large food processing companies. But it is also a popular tourist centre and the scenery is not unlike some parts of Switzerland. Although just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle, it has an unusually warm climate for such a town so far north.
Minister of Transport Kristján Möller announced recently that the government had agreed to speed up the improvements to the airport so they are now scheduled to finish in late 2008.
He said: “This is a very urgent matter of interest for northern Icelanders and it is obviously more efficient to complete all operations next year. It will greatly increase the usability of the airport and improve the tourist industry in Akureyri and in the entire north Icelandic region. It will also be good for companies exporting fish via air."
He added that the improvements of the airport were part of the counter measurements organised by the government in relation to the recent cod quota cut.
www.fishupdate.com is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.
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