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It's still very much 'up, up and away' for Norwegian farmed salmon production.

It's Still Very Much `Up, Up and Away' For Norwegian Farmed Salmon Production

But mixed signals are sent by one fisheries official. He warns that a decline can be expected, while also heralding an `almost perfect growth curve.'

Farmed salmon output in Norway will reach 120,000 tons this year, 160,000 next year, and 230,000 in 1995, predicts the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries.

That's in spite of an algae bloom that threatened Norwegian salmon farms last year, Hallstein Rasmussen, deputy director general of fisheries, said at SeaFare '89, an international seafood exposition held in Long Beach, Calif., U.S.A.

Although quick action by salmon farmers and the authorities saved nearly all the farms, Rasmussen said, the outbreak was a warning "to pay much closer attention to our marine environment;" as a result, there is now a "round-the-clock surveillance and warning system" for algae blooms, oil spills and changes in the temperature and weather.

Rasmussen seemed to contradict himself at times; at one point, he said the industry "must expect a decline" of farmed salmon output for this year as well as last -- but a few minutes later, he boasted of the farming industry's "almost perfect growth curve," and said the fish farmer's organization "sees no reason to revise its optimistic forecasts."

Despite the rapid projected growth of farmed salmon, Rasmussen said, he isn't worried about saturating the market. By the year 2000, he said, annual demand for Atlantic salmon should hit 350,000 tons, including 140,000 in Europe, 75,000 in North America and 70,000 in Asia. But he admitted the market won't expand all by itself; promotion and product development are needed.

Until now, just a few basic products -- fresh whole salmon, frozen whole salmon and smoked salmon -- have sufficed; "there has been no need to come up with a more varied assortment," he said. But there will be. What those new products might be, Rasmussen didn't elaborate. But with 40% of Norway's fisheries income already coming from farmed salmon, the salmon market obviously has to be kept healthy.

So must the salmon themselves. A vaccine has been developed for a disease that struck salmon farms in 1985, and efforts are being stepped up to prevent pollution of the marine environment. Strict regulations are enforced by the country's veterinarian general; hatcheries must get special permission to use anti-biotics, and salmon so treated can't be released for six weeks. Farming itself is also heavily regulated.

Maximum size of any salmon farm is 12,000 cubic meters, Rasmussen said; there are now 667 hatcheries, which can produce 217 million smolt a year, and 786 grow-out farms, with six million cubic meters and an output capacity of 200,000 tons a year. Smolt take six months to raise in hatcheries (It used to take two years), and are delivered to farms by summer to spend two years growing out before being harvested in the fall of the second year.

No Subsidy Plans

Although the Norwegian government's aim in developing salmon farms is to create employment opportunities in rural and coastal areas, he said, there aren't any plans to subsidize the business, which is "a growth industry, and one that is solidly founded on profitability." It can survive on its own, he said; at most, "Should the situation arise that some action is needed, what we would consider is to redesign our laws and regulations so that they are better adapted to changing conditions."

Farming was touched on by Peter Redmaine, chairman of the salmon seminar, who spent much of his time showing videotapes and slide shows. Japan does a lot of ranching of chum salmon, which is the easiest type to deal with but also the least colorful in a market where red Sockeye salmon command the highest prices (And, yes, Japan pays them; when supplies are tight sock-eyes are hard to find on dinner tables elsewhere). Japan is trying to breed chum for brighter skins and better color.

World salmon production is around 800,000 tons a year, and in the Pacific (as opposed to the Atlantic), most of it is wild. About 90% of the harvest is now frozen, Redmaine said; canning, which originally built the salmon industry, is practically obsolete. Alaska accounts for 90% of the production, especially since the Japanese have been frozen out of U.S. waters -- that's one reason they're farming chum. U.S. production (nearly all from Alaska) was 40% sockeye, 30% pink, 15% chum and seven percent coho or chinook in 1987, he said.

Landings of pinks have declined in the past couple of years, in spite of optimistic projections -- maybe Taiwanese squid boats have been poaching, he theorized. Fishermen couldn't complain last year; exvessel value of all salmon caught then was $750 million, vs. $450 million in 1987, even though overall tonnage was down. But coho got too expensive to compete with Norwegian farmed salmon, while processors "took a bloodbath" on chum, which dropped from $2.50 to $1.80 a pound F.O.B. Seattle.

Alaska predicts its salmon harvest by sending students out to count the salmon running upriver with clickers. On that basis, they were projecting a good pink run again for this year -- of course, that was before the oil spill at Prince William Sound, and even then the forecast wasn't optimistic on chums. Canada is trying to develop salmon farming, but has trouble with chinooks that can start to mature sexually when least expected; Chile and New Zealand are farming salmon, too, but both have been hit by algae blooms.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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