THE head of Samherji, Iceland’s largest fishing and fish processing company, has warned that the fishermen’s strike could lead to certain fish products disappearing from the shelves of major UK retailers such as Marks & Spencer.
Thorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, CEO of Samherji, which also has British interests, said the dispute was causing severe damage to the country’s economy.
He estimated that the loss in export revenue was already between three and four billion kroners.
He said if the industry and his company cannot deliver to UK markets fish may be taken off the shelves of Marks & Spencer for the first time in 15 years. He warned it could be difficult to win that business back.
‘Commercially, the damage suffered very significant,’ he stressed.
Both M&S and Waitrose are major buyers of Icelandic cod and haddock, much of it flown to the UK within a day or two of being caught.
Their suppliers are thought to have made contingency plans to acquire cod and haddock before the strike began in December, but few expected it to have gone on for so long.
His warning was strengthened by news from elsewhere that German fish buyers were now turning to Norway for cod and pollack.
The broadcaster RUV said that Samherji, which has a large fishing fleet and a major fish processing operation, had 600 employees sitting at home – 200 fishermen on strike and 400 fish processors.
He admitted he was anxious to see a settlement, adding there was a big responsibility on the industry to find a solution.
‘The responsibility is ours and it is very high, we simply have to go and settle this.’
Baldvinsson also challenged some of the claims and demands being made by striking fishermen, especially in relation to payments for food.
Meanwhile, HB Grandi, Iceland’s second largest fishing company, which has kept most of its processing workers on guaranteed basic pay, said it is using the spare time caused by the dispute to send the employees on fish training and first aid courses.