« December 2009 Table of Contents
Top Species: Farmed salmon
Norwegian product fills in where Chilean salmon farmers left off
By Joanne Friedrick
December 01, 2009
With Chilean Atlantic salmon farmers still trying to recoup
from the outbreak of infectious salmon anemia (ISA) that
harshly curtailed production
beginning in 2008 and all of
2009, other producing countries are stepping forward, hoping to
fill the supply gap.
Over the past 10 years, Chile has continued to build its
salmon industry, competing with Canada for top honors in the
"Going into 2009, the industry had been severely hit, but we
have come to terms with it," says Bert Bachmann, VP and general
manager for Camanchaca in Miami, which operates salmon farms
and processing facilities in Chile. He says even sites that
companies thought were free of the disease became infected via
transport of the virus through equipment.
The unaffected fish were subject to accelerated harvests and
frozen, explains Bachmann, "so there is a frozen inventory in
play today that wasn't a year ago."
In addition, some farming and production sites have been
shut down, resulting in layoffs to thousands of workers in
Chile. But the infrastructure remains in place, ready for when
business resumes. At its peak, says Bachmann, Camanchaca's main
plant was processing about 1 million pounds a week. In October,
that number was down to about 100,000 pounds a week, followed
by a two-week layoff.
The salmon coming out of the water now, he says, is
supplying the spot market, while the frozen inventories are
fulfilling standing orders. Prices have risen, he says, as
programs have been dropped and restaurants and others have had
to renegotiate deals. Two- to 3-pound fillets that sold for
$3.77 in 2008 are now going for $4.50.
On the bright side, says Bachmann, overseers of the Chilean
farmed salmon industry are implementing new rules, regulations
and protocols to prevent a repeat of the ISA outbreak. That's
important, he says, because nothing can really replace the
salmon business in Chile.
"The people in Chile look at this as a learning
opportunity," he says. Energy within the government has been
spent on getting bills related to site and egg inspections
passed, so companies can get back to business.
For Camanchaca, Bachmann says new fish will likely go into
the water between the first and second quarter of 2010. Right
now, he says, "bankers aren't eager to finance because of the
losses. We're in a 'go cautious' approach at this point."
While the ISA issue will change the face of the Chilean
farmed salmon industry in the short term with less production
than in the past, Bachmann says Chile still will be
competitive. "I don't think the industry will run at the same
rate," he acknowledges, "but Chile will still have a price
advantage." Also, Chile has taken a lead position in
value-adding its salmon, he says, which separates it from
producing countries that are focused on whole fish.
Expanding the market
Norway is one of those countries poised to fill the void
left by Chile. In just the first nine months of this year,
Norway exported 24.4 million pounds of farmed salmon fillets
versus just 4.8 million pounds during all of 2008, according to
National Marine Fisheries Service data. Canada, meanwhile,
seems to be on pace to achieve the same numbers as last year,
having exported approximately 166 million pounds of farmed
whole and filleted salmon in 2008. Through August 2009, Canada
had exported about 109 million pounds.
Paul Aandahl, market analyst for the Norwegian Seafood
Export Council (NSEC) in Tromso, Norway, says the United States
now accounts for 5 percent of total Norwegian salmon exports,
up from just 1 percent a year ago.
"This is the most important change in the global salmon
trade caused by the Chilean reduction in Atlantic salmon
production," explains Aandahl.
The drop in Chilean fillets has led to increased exports of
salmon from throughout Europe, he says, including Norway.
On the price side, Aandahl says Norway has experienced a
"huge increase," especially in the spot price, with prices
around 50 kroner a kilo (or about $4.08 a pound). Higher
volumes of exports have brought prices down this fall from
summer highs, notes Aandahl.
Even with the improved market for Norwegian imports, Borge
Gronbech, U.S. director of the NSEC in Boston, says education
is still required to build a market for salmon.
"One of the main barriers for increased consumption of
seafood in general and salmon in particular is lack of
knowledge on how to handle and prepare it," he says.
"Consumers, quite simply, do not buy it because they wonder how
to cook and serve [salmon]."
Understanding this, Gronbech says the next step is to offer
"meal solutions, variations and occasions" to convince
consumers how simple it is to succeed with Norwegian salmon
throughout the year.
He says both retail and foodservice are target audiences for
Norwegian salmon promotions. "However, compared with the
European market, a larger share of salmon is consumed at
restaurants and foodservice in the United States, so
foodservice will probably get more attention." The council
plans to market Norwegian salmon using recipe leaflets and
probably education programs at the retail and foodservice
level, he says.
Making the sale
A believer in the farmed salmon experience, retailer Chris
Arseneault, who owns Seafood @ West Main in Charlottesville,
Va., says farmed salmon "is the greatest seafood advancement in
50 years." The consistency, nutritional value and ability to
consumers' lifestyles has made it the best seller at his
The store stocks farmed Atlantic salmon from Canada and
Scotland, along with chinook salmon from British Columbia that
he sells when the wild season has ended. The Canadian and
Scottish products serve different constituencies, says
Arseneault, with the Scottish having a higher fat content, and
the Canadian more competitive pricewise. The chinook is sourced
from Creative Salmon, which is seeking organ-ic
Headlines like those associated with the ISA outbreak always
raise consumer questions about farmed salmon, notes Arseneault.
"Those articles don't always
resonate with people in terms of
location [of the problem], so
we have to dismantle their
Fortunately, he says, the pluses of the product - nutrition,
value and cost - helps salmon rebound when issues do arise.
Arseneault makes it a practice to buy from companies that
are conscious of the farming methods used. "I have to trust
that my suppliers are making the visits and doing due diligence
on their end," he says.
Customers are chiefly concerned with antibiotics and the
environmental impact of fish farming. "They want the fish to be
wholesome and pure,"
While wild salmon has its proponents, price is usually a
deciding factor, says Arseneault, with farmed selling for $4 to
$5 per pound less than wild.
"We let customers make the decision, giving the benefits
both," he notes.
Kyle Krieger, executive chef and managing chef partner at
Noble's Restaurant in Atlanta, provides a mix of wild and
farmed salmon on the menu, including Loch Duart salmon farmed
in Scotland. Like Arseneault, Krieger finds the Scottish fish
to be a fatty, flavorful salmon that stands up to wood
grilling. But in the spring, when the
Scottish product is
scarce, he fills in with smaller Faroe Island ocean trout.
Both fish are sourced through CleanFish, a brokerage and
branding company in San Francisco that specializes in
Using an extensive vetting process that looks at the
hatcheries, farm and feed, CleanFish works with a half-dozen or
so salmon producers from Ireland, Tasmania, New Zealand,
"We don't have a structure that producers follow," explains
Dale Sims, CleanFish VP and co-founder, "but rather we look for
decisions around practices, such as what the salmon are fed."
And CleanFish does require that the fish feed come from
"We don't object to certain practices," he say, "but it all
comes down to the quality of the fish."
Working with the suppliers, CleanFish creates a marketing
program that is used to promote the seafood to distributors,
retailers and restaurants, explained Beth Rostan,
"If you don't make a market for them, there's no impetus for
them [the farmers] to improve their practices." Branding also
can bring a price premium, says Sims, with CleanFish products
selling for 20 percent to 40 percent more than other farmed
The various producers affiliated with CleanFish range from
large operations to boutique producers, such as Loch Duart,
which harvests just 5,400 metric tons a year.
While sustainability is a key message for the CleanFish
brands, Rostan says neither the company nor its clients would
be successful if the fish didn't taste good.
"When we have tastings, customers can taste the differences
among the fish," says Sims. "It's an eye opener for me. The
locale, the feed, it all goes into making the fish what it
Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in South