A Norwegian dried fish supplier is close to bankruptcy after currency controls imposed in Nigeria destroyed its biggest market.
Nigerians have a huge appetite for ‘okporoko’, as unsalted, air-dried cod is known locally, using it as the key flavouring in the soups which accompany their grain staples.
In a normal year the African country is Norway’s biggest single market for stockfish, with the trade, mainly in dried fish heads and other offcuts, worth some 486 million Norwegian kroner ($58m) a year.
But since Nigeria’s central bank in June banned importers from using the foreign-exchange market for some goods, including stockfish, business has ground to a halt.
“Nigeria is our main market. Over half our turnover is stockfish and if the business stops for a few months, our company will be rapidly in the red,” Erling Falch from Saga Fisk in the Lofoten islands told NRK.
He has already laid off almost half of the company's 50 employees to cut costs until business returns to normal.
He said that the Nigerians were the main country worldwide with a taste for dried fish heads. Italy has traditionally been the biggest buyer of the more expensive cuts of stockfish.
Falch said that his company normally exported as much as 100 tonnes of stockfish to Nigeria every week in the peak season.
Instead, he now has some 500 tonnes of unsold stock in his warehouse, which he fears may soon become unsellable.
Stockfish, which is laid out to dry across the Lofoten Islands and other parts of northern Norway while there is still snow on the ground in March, has been exported from Norway since Viking times.
Falch said that the Norwegian government needed to work harder to have stockfish removed from the list of goods facing currency controls.
Stockfish is dried in Norway to ancient, time-honoured techniques:
Much of it ends up on African plates, such as this dish of ugba and okporoko, one of the specialities of the Igbo people.