Updated: Aug 11
A shortage of fresh and frozen haddock is forcing fish and chip shops to remove haddock from the menu, switch to other species or implement price rises.
Haddock supplies have been getting tighter and prices have been rising steadily for many months as fishing quotas was reached early and the new quotas are not due to reset until 1st September.
New markets coming back after Covid, in particular retail sectors from Europe and the US, is also adding pressure, as is the premium commanded by H&G, which is seeing production diverted away from frozen at sea. What’s more, the US has made a political decision to stop buying from China, further adding to the demand for frozen at sea. As a result, shortages have peaked over recent weeks, pushing prices up by between 25-30%.
Gary Warner, managing director at Warners Fish Merchants in Doncaster, North Yorkshire, says: “We’re seeing poor supply of haddock across the market from fresh to IQF to frozen at sea as we are dealing in a world market where demand is high and we’re all having to pay market prices for our fish.
“We have had and will continue to have a good supply of haddock coming from Iceland, however. They are being very loyal to us as they look to keep the fish and chip market going.”
Varny Georgiou, owner of Leicester-based fish merchant Central Seafoods, expects pressure to ease when the new quota starts up again in September.
He comments: “A lot of boats fished haddock hard during Covid to send to the UK market as takeaways stayed open. For them, it provided an income but it means they’ve gone past their quota. As soon as the quota resets on August 31st, we will see a change in the haddock situation. The fish is there, it’s in the sea."
It’s little comfort right now to shops like The Ashvale Group in Aberdeen that rely on haddock. Here, 95% of sales are haddock and owner Stuart Devine has seen the shortage push up the price of the fresh haddock he buys by more than 25%.
“There’s a definite problem, there is no getting away from it,” says Stuart. “There’s a major shortage and the price has gone up dramatically. It is quite worrying.
“I know guys that are saying fresh haddock will be more than £100 a stone next week - if they get any - and that’s the issue, getting hold of it. What haddock there is tends to be very small, the boats aren’t going out very far because they know they can get their catch and still get good money for it so why would they bother going out further for the bigger haddocks?
“It is a worry because the humble fish supper can only reach a certain price until you actually start putting people off. If we keep putting up the price, eventually we will price ourselves out of the market. But it is something we are watching. We’re on high potato prices but they are due to start coming down with the new crop coming in, so it’s sit tight and keep our fingers crossed.”
With VAT for hospitality currently at 5%, the increasing price of haddock is cushioning the impact somewhat.
Stuart adds: “VAT at 5% is a major help, if we were sitting on 20% VAT in pre-covid conditions we’d be in big trouble. We’re hoping if we can ride it out to the end the of year and prices improve then we’ll be okay because we are still working under covid conditions, business isn’t back to normal yet.”
At Towngate Fisheries in Idle, Bradford, sales are 100% haddock. While owner Mark Drummond has seen prices of frozen at sea haddock increase by 30% since the beginning of the year, there has been no disruption to his supply, which Mark attributes to his long-standing relationship with a specialist fish supplier.
“My loyalty over the years has paid off. Although my haddock is more expensive, I’ve got a consistent supply of exactly what I want because fish merchants, like any other business, will look after their loyal customers first when times get tough.
“We’re very lucky that the VAT cut has made the high commodity prices manageable, but if VAT does go back up in September and fish prices haven’t dropped then shops are going to have to increase their prices and accept that while they might lose a few customers, they are better being a little bit quieter at a good profit margin than being very, very busy and making no profit on everything they do.”
At Farnhams in Boverton, Llantwit Major, South Wales, sales of haddock are much lower at around 20%. Unable to source his usual 10-12oz haddock, owner David Farnham has had to take it off the menu: “We just can’t get any at the moment. We were offered IQF but it was a different size, it was 8-10oz, and I didn’t think the quality was as good and I didn’t want to compromise. It’s been disappointing for the customers but we’ve been explaining there’s a shortage and most are happy to accept cod or plaice.”
For Hodgson’s Chippy, in Lancaster, Lancashire, where haddock makes up 90% of its sales, taking it off the menu isn’t an option. Owner Nigel Hodgson is considering a 10-15p price increase, however.
“The price of my frozen at sea haddock has gone up by £10-13 for a 45lb block in the last two months," says Nigel. "And whereas a couple of years ago I could buy wisely by block buying two to three months at a time, the quantities just aren’t there at the moment to do that so I can’t forward plan with my prices.
“I don’t think we would have the luxury of offering cod and our customers accepting it, so I’m seriously considering putting my prices up by about 10p-15p per fillet.”
John Molnar, owner of The Cod's Scallops in Nottingham uses fresh haddock and has seen prices almost double in recent months as demand outstrips supply.
He has sourced some smaller frozen at sea haddock and is currently bridging the gap by serving two pieces to one portion. He is resisting putting up prices, adding: “We’ve sustained the price increase ourselves as we don’t want to be too knee-jerk. We want to see if prices settle down because if they do we'll be ok. If it continues, prices will have to go up but it’s getting haddock in the shop before you can sell it that’s the problem.
“The only positive is that we are a cod region and we offer a huge selection of species, so once this frozen at sea stock has gone, we’ll take haddock off and we will push people towards another species. It’s actually an opportunity to get customers to try other varieties and then they might have it every other time in between ordering haddock or cod.”
It’s not just haddock John is finding difficult to source, however. Located 60 miles from the coast, he’s struggled to get crabs, hake and lobster, a result of the increasing number of people having a staycation this year.
“We’re struggling to get anything from the coast,” says John. “Coastal businesses are so strong what with people holidaying in the UK that fish is commanding such a high price and suppliers aren’t sending it inland when they can get the same money without paying any transport costs.”
At Colmans Seafood Temple in South Shields, haddock has been on and off the menu for three to four weeks. Buying 8-10oz frozen at sea, line-caught haddock, owner Richard Ord is relying on the small quantities of locally caught fresh haddock as and when it comes in. He says: “We haven’t got haddock on the menu at the moment, it’s not even about price, we just can’t get any, it’s unobtainable at the moment.
“I’ve been told it could be mid-September, maybe even October, before we get the line caught haddock in, which isn’t ideal with the summer upon us, but I understand, it’s out of our control so we just have to put other options on, guide people and recommend things until we can get it back.
“We’ve briefed all the staff to let the customers know the situation and they have been understanding. We are getting a lot of fish from the local fish quay for people to try so we’ve got a few species we don’t usually have, such as local coley and local skate in. It’s actually giving customers that would go for haddock the opportunity to try something else. Hake, for example, that’s really taken off.”