Watchdog Slashes Imports of Herring From Norway

Itar-TassA store selling herring in the town of Nefteyugansk in the Tyumen region.
With the holiday season fast approaching, supplies of one of the country's favorite drinking snacks, pickled herring, could be under threat, after Russia slashed the number of Norwegian companies allowed to export the shallow-water delicacy.

As of Saturday, the government cut the number of Norwegian producers allowed to import herring into Russia from about 40 to seven, Interfax reported.

The restriction comes after the Agriculture Ministry's food safety watchdog in October dispatched scientists to inspect conditions at a number of Norwegian herring producers, industry experts said Monday.

Several industry insiders said Monday, however, that the watchdog's checks were ongoing and that the new regulations would not be enforced until Dec. 15 at the earliest.

A spokesman for major Norwegian herring producer Norway Pelagic said he had heard speculation about new regulations over the weekend but could not comment further on it.

A spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry's watchdog could not be reached Monday.

A Moscow-based spokeswoman for the Norwegian Seafood Export Council did not respond to e-mailed questions Monday.

Eighty percent of all herring consumed in Russia comes from Norway, said Timur Mitupov, manager of investment firm Norge Fish. Russia represents the biggest market for Norwegian herring, which is considered to be some of the best in the world. Russia accounts for double the demand of second-placed Ukraine, the Norwegian Fisheries Ministry said in a report earlier this year.

In 2006, Norway exported more than 180,000 tons of herring to Russia, worth almost $190 million, the report said.

After China, Norway is the largest fish exporter in the world. Seafood products make up around 5 percent of total Norwegian exports.

The new export regulations would also affect a range of other so-called pelagic fish that swim just under the surface of the sea, including some types of mackerel, haddock and cod.

Denis Fronin, a spokesman for Fishnet.ru, a Murmansk-based web site that monitors the industry, said the moves were part of a broader government policy and echoed steps taken in the meat industry.

"It's a move by the government to support domestic producers, but also an attempt to stop low-quality imports," Fronin said.