Page last updated at 17:11 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009

Grimsby gains from Iceland's woes

By Jeremy Cooke
BBC rural affairs correspondent

A man holding a fish
Iceland is sending fresh fish to Grimsby for the first time in years

Iceland, which is suffering from economic problems more than most other countries, has a valuable natural resource - fish.

By offering its stocks to the UK market, the country is helping to revive the once-thriving fishing community on the Lincolnshire coast.

The dockside at Grimsby's fish quay used to be crammed with boats arriving laden down with cargo plucked from the North Sea.

It was the stuff that made this medium-sized town the biggest fishing port in the world.

Legend had it that you could walk from deck to deck across the entire harbour, and step on only one third of the fleet - because the rest of the boats were at sea.

They're trying to fish their way out of financial crisis
Steve Norton, Grimsby Fish Merchants Association

Today the trawlers have all but vanished, and crates of fish sold every day at the fish market, on the harbour, are more likely to arrive by air and by road than by sea.

"The containers are our bread and butter [and] these vessels are our jam," says Steve Norton, the chief executive of the Grimsby Fish Merchants Association.

The vessel he is looking at is the 50ft (15m) vessel the Tomas Torvaldsson, which drew up alongside the fish dock in the small hours of Monday morning.

Gangs of workers are busy unloading its cargo of 1,300 boxes of fish from the North Sea, and gangs of workers are hard at work.

The fishing port of Grimsby is enjoying a mini-renaissance.

Iceland, whose exposure to the economic crisis is worse than most, is trying to exploit one of its natural resources. As a result it is sending fresh fish to market Grimsby for the first time in more than a decade.

"It's marvellous to see them return after 12 years," says Mr Norton. "There's lots of interest in the fish and good prices.

"They're trying to fish their way out of the financial crisis. The cod quota was increased by 30,000 tonnes. They get a good reception, they get a good deal and they get paid very quickly."

Behind the fish docks, Grimsby's National Fishing Heritage Centre tells schoolchildren and tourists about the industry that once kept the town alive.

Local historian Jeanette Ferguson remembers the so-called Cod Wars of the early 1970s, which saw Iceland bar British trawlers from coming within 20 miles of its coastline - territory they had previously been allowed to fish.

Wholesale prices

"I've heard of a particular Grimsby trawler skipper who did in fact breach the waters. His vessel was boarded by the Icelandic police, and he locked them down in the fish hold, continued fishing, and headed back to Grimsby," she says.

Back on the quayside, a native Icelander, Orn Jonsson, lives and works in Grimsby as the director of a fish trading company.

He sees international trade as his country's way of fighting the financial crisis.

"Fresh fish in its nature is moving fast, and people get paid fast. Normally fresh fish from the Tomas Torvaldsson is processed and kept and stored. Obviously this way the process is made very very quick, and the money returns faster to Iceland," he says.

As more Icelandic fish reaches the UK market, wholesale prices are coming down.

The economic crisis is already having a positive impact in Grimsby and industry expectations are that cheaper fish will soon reach the shops.

Watch Jeremy Cooke's report on the Six O'clock News, on Monday 23rd March.

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