The PR boost that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has given to mackerel could be shortlived as lower Norwegian catches, poor weather and the Fukushima nuclear fallout send prices skywards, threatening to test shoppers’ loyalty to the fish.

The wholesale price of mackerel in Norway – the main purchaser of mackerel, which sets the world price – is up 33.5% on last year, to NOK14.15 (£1.55) per kg [Norwegian Seafood Export Council], partly because of a lower-than expected catch this season.

Norway’s mackerel quota was unchanged year-onyear, but last year the country had benefited from an additional 70,000 tonnes of quota transferred from 2009, according to the NSEC. “In addition, we have registered a higher demand from Asia, lower quotas for mackerel in Japan, and problems with bad weather, which have prevented small purse seiner boats going fishing,” said a spokesman.

Although the weather had improved, mackerel in the Japanese area was now migrating towards the south and the Fukushima area, where a 100km ‘nofishing’ zone is in place, the spokesman added.

Higher Norwegian auction prices had already affected prices in Scotland, said Ian Gatt, CEO of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, adding that Scottish buyers had no choice but to follow the Norwegian price in order to guarantee supply. “Boats have been getting between £1,300 and £1,600 per tonne, whereas last year, the maximum was £900 to £1,000,” he said.

Rising prices at wholesale were likely to be passed on to retail customers, said one supplier. “You can only absorb so much.”

Despite an overall decline in sales of chilled fish, sales of mackerel are up 8.1% by value, to £58.1m, and 1.9% by volume [Kantar Worldpanel 52w/e 4 September 2011]. The increase has been attributed to Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Mackerel Mission’, launched as part of Hugh’s Fish Fight in January.