The fishing industry made an overall profit in just five of the 15 years, according to a report prepared by Nofima Marked on commission for the Executive Committee for Northern Norway.
"The losses are unevenly distributed and some companies have still managed to make money virtually every year," says Scientist Bjørn Inge Bendiksen at Nofima Marked. "As a whole, the fishing industry has for many years had weak profitability. While 2008 was a rough year for many in the white fish industry, 2009 can be far worse."
A total of 120 companies in the white fish industry have been closed down since 1995. The biggest decline is in the counties of Nordland, Møre og Romsdal and Troms.
In the same period, each company employed fewer staff. Many tasks have been automated and many filleting companies with high staffing levels have closed down. Viewed collectively, the number of people employed in the fishing industry has halved to 2700 in 2007. These figures relate to the industry that processes wild fish - not farmed fish.
From frozen to salted
For many decades frozen fillet was the most important product in the Norwegian white fish industry. Salted fish, clipfish and stockfish have reclaimed the throne. Stockfish products have collectively earned around NOK 300 million in this period.
"The stockfish market is small and Norwegian producers don't have many overseas competitors. In addition, many producers have had extremely good access to raw materials," says Scientist Bjørn Inge Bendiksen at Nofima Marked.
"But this can change. Owing to the poor market for salted fish, more fish are hung out to dry. This can lead to lower prices."
From frozen to fresh
The fisheries industry exports more than 90 percent of what it produces abroad, but it is facing increasingly tougher competition. Cheap labour in countries with low production costs and increased sales of species like Alaska pollock, which costs less than Norwegian cod, had led to strong pressure on prices. This creates both challenges and opportunities for Norwegian producers.
Up to 2002, frozen products were the most important for the Norwegian fillet industry, but it is now fresh fillet that is important. This is where there is less competition from countries with low production costs, which means higher prices. But this does not compensate for the decline in frozen products. While half the employees in the white fish industry in 1995 worked in the filleting sector, this had dropped to just one in four 10 years later.
"The white fish industry and in particular parts of the salted fish industry and in a deep crisis, and I don't think further closures this year can be avoided," says Bendiksen. "But if dramatic changes don't occur in the trade with Portugal, production of salted fish will remain the cornerstone of the fisheries industry in Northern Norway."