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One Man's Opinion: Has Norway lost its way?
By Peter Redmayne
January 01, 2008
My first trip to Norway was my firs t press junket back in
1982. I had just quit fishing in Alaska to pursue a career as
the editor of a seafood magazine. Free trip to Norway? Count me
in. So I headed to Chicago, where I met up with a group of
women who wrote for titles like Good Housekeeping and Ladies
Home Journal . It was a great introduction to the perks of
being a writer; first class all the way from the time we
boarded our SAS flight to Copenhagen.
At the time, Norway's salmon production was less than 10,000
metric tons (compared to more than 650,000 metric tons today),
but it was clear this industry had a lot of potential. It was
all about the quality, the Norwegians said time after time.
Having fished in Alaska, I knew the reality of salmon
processing there. In those days, fishermen threw fish around
their boat, stepped on them and rarely used ice. Then the fish
had to be pumped aboard a tender, and pumped again up to a
processing plant. It was OK if it was going into a can, which
masks a lot of handling sins.
Norway's salmon farmers, on the other hand, delivered their
fish live to the processing plant, where it was promptly bled
and gingerly iced and put in Styrofoam boxes, bound for buyers
in Europe and North America, who were clamoring for fresh,
high-quality salmon and willing to pay a huge premium for
Over the years, Norway's salmon industry has spent tens of
millions of dollars on marketing the quality of its salmon. And
with good results. Norwegian salmon became synonymous with the
best farmed salmon. Until now.
This fall, press reports in the Norwegian trade media told
of EU buyers who were increasingly fed up with the
disappointing quality of the salmon from Norway.
"The quality of the Norwegian salmon has deteriorated," one
Danish importer told Fiskaren, a Norwegian newspaper. "There
are plenty of others in the EU value-added processing industry
that say the same."
And the problem is not just endemic to Norway. The
salmon-farming industry has consolidated over the past few
years and a
handful of publicly traded, cost-conscious
companies with farms in Norway, Chile, Canada and Europe
dominate production. One company alone, Marine Harvest, will
produce more than 400,000 metric tons of salmon this year.
As fishmeal prices have soared, it seems that salmon farmers
have been substituting cheaper ingredients like vegetable oils,
which can result in softer meat. In a further effort to cut
costs, some farmers are also cutting back on their use of
synthetic carotenoids like astaxanthin that give farmed fish
its desirable orange-red color.
If Norway's farmed-salmon industry is smart, it will get
back to basics and stick with producing the highest-quality
product it can and enforce grading standards. It should avoid
what so many other seafood producers end up doing, which is
cheapen their product by lowering their quality. Consumers are
already getting enough negative messages about farmed salmon
from well-funded environmental groups. Why give them one
Contributing Editor Peter Redmayne lives in Seattle