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Prime Minister's Office

A new fishmarket in Hull

    November 9 2001

    Opening of a new fishmarket in Hull

    Ladies and Gentlemen:
    It is interesting to visit Humberside and see the enormous advances that have been made here. The main cities here are certainly a model for others to follow. Beautiful places that clearly show the ambition that residents and community leaders have vested in them. I am grateful and delighted to be able to see these great changes for myself.

    Trading with fish from the high northern seas is nothing new here in the United Kingdom. For centuries, fish has been caught there and brought to Britain to be processed and sold. Iceland's history is closely linked to the fish trade with Britain. English fishermen began plying the waters off Iceland at the beginning of the fifteenth century and their influence in Iceland was so widespread that we actually call the fifteenth century in Iceland "the English Age." For us in Iceland, the English Age was a favourable one in many respects, because of the lucrative trade in fish and provisions that it brought. In fact, the English were not the only people fishing off Iceland then, they were competing with German merchants from the Hanseatic League and with the Danes, and Iceland certainly gained from that competition. It was just as true then as now, that competition benefits everyone. But the establishment of the Danish monopoly at the beginning of the seventeenth century deprived the Icelanders of the benefits of this trade, although it is known that many people defied the monopoly and secretly did business with the English, to make their lives a little easier.

    Despite the ban on trading, English ships continued to fish off the coast of Iceland and land their catches here. So it was only natural, when Iceland launched its own large-scale fishing operations, that the UK would become our main market region for both frozen and fresh fish. During the Second World War, Iceland exported up to 140,000 tonnes a year of fresh fish to the UK, and both our nations greatly benefited from this trade. This trade diminished when we were involved in disputes over fishing rights off Iceland, and almost came to a standstill in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Under such conditions, it was only natural and perfectly understandable that Iceland was not held in particularly high regard here. Although our fresh fish trade hardly seems likely to return to the peak volumes seen during the war years, it is quite considerable now. In recent years Iceland has generally exported more than 20 thousand tonnes of fresh fish to the UK and over the past three years some 9 to 11 thousand tonnes have been shipped here to Hull for processing.

    The new and impressive auction market which will formally open now will undoubtedly boost Hull's potential for competing for fish, including catches from Iceland. Tough as the rivalry over fish from Icelandic waters may have been over the almost six hundred years that have passed since the English first started fishing there, it is even tougher now – although the ways in which we challenge each other have of course changed somewhat over the centuries. Fish is sold to the places where it fetches the highest price, and market know-how and prompt service are crucial. Modern business practices apply to fish sales just like any other branch of commerce, and we take electronic trading with fish just as much for granted today as we do the fish markets themselves.

    Ladies and Gentlemen:
    The business world is becoming continually more intricate and globalisation presents new and exciting opportunities. When Iceland started trading trade with Britain it left a deep imprint on our history, the English Age certainly deserved its name. The age we live in today is truly the age of globalisation. International trade is easier now than ever before and the potential gains are greater than anyone could ever have dreamt of. Cooperation and competition are two sides of the same coin. It is a sign of the times that the fish market formally opening here in Hull is jointly owned by Britons and Icelanders, with a Faroese managing director at the helm. Partnerships between companies, stretching across borders and built on knowledge and specialisation, are more likely to create prosperity and possibilities than when we all shut ourselves away in our respective corners.

    I would like to express my best wishes and congratulations to Hull fish market on its new market hall and facilities. Hopefully they will benefit buyers and sellers alike, and thereby consumers. Better raw material and sophisticated processing create quality products, and this new market will undoubtedly help to bring consumers fine fish, from Iceland and elsewhere, even more effectively than was possible before.

    Ladies and Gentlemen:
    I hereby declare the Hull Fish Market – Fishgate – formally open. May you enjoy all good fortune and success in your work.

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