« May 2008 Table of Contents
Top 10 Species: Farmed salmon
ISA, antibiotic misinformation plague salmon importers
By Christine Blank
May 01, 2008
Despite some negative press this spring, the farmed salmon
industry continues to flourish as retailers and the foodservice
industry continue strong sales of the omega-3 fatty acid-rich
fish. Restaurants are offering salmon with unique sauces and
cooking methods, as well as including it in more of their fresh
sushi options. Supermarkets are having success with value-added
salmon products, such as crab-stuffed salmon, which consumers
view as a quick, healthful meal.
Yet U.S. importers and retailers who source farmed salmon
from Chile have recently been wringing their hands over the
media uproar regarding infectious salmon anemia (ISA) and the
country's farming standards. While in the short term the U.S.
farmed salmon supply could see a dip because of ISA at some
farms, overall demand is expected to stay consistent this
"The volume may be a little less … mainly because of the ISA
issue," says Laura McNaughton, director of farmed salmon group
Salmon of the Americas in Miami.
"ISA has had very little impact as an industry in Chile,
representing less than 1 percent of production. In the past six
months, ISA has been mainly concentrated on one salmon
producer," says Jason Paine, general manager of Multiexport
Foods in Miami.
Overall, farmed salmon imports rose from 431 million pounds
in 2006 to 448 million pounds in 2007. Before ISA took hold,
the Chilean supply was already steady to lower, industry
sources say. However, imports of fresh farmed salmon fillets
from Chile rose in 2007 to nearly 174 million pounds, up from
156 million pounds in 2006, according to National Marine
Fisheries Service data.
Still, The New York Times article in April [see Newsline, p.
8] may dampen demand. SOTA says the report was filled with
inaccuracies, including that farms use banned veterinary
"Our biggest problem is that article. It was not correct,
and the Chilean government said the Times was negligent," says
At the same time, she says the issue will likely only curb
consumer demand in the short term. In addition, the issue may
temporarily increase interest in farmed salmon from countries
"At first glance, this presents an opportunity for Canadian
growers. At the same time, when one part of the industry gets a
black eye, the whole industry gets a black eye," says
aquaculture industry consultant Alex Trent.
ISA is not the only issue that may impact farmed salmon
sales in the future. Consumer groups are continuing litigation
in California against several supermarkets, including Safeway,
Albertson's and Whole Foods Market, alleging that the retailers
did not include labels that farmed salmon is "artificially
colored" because fish feed contain carotenoids that determine
the color of the salmon's flesh.
Unfortunately, some of the coloring issue stems from
misinformation from environmental groups.
"We have seen some blogs where consumers think salmon pieces
are injected with dye one at a time," says McNaughton.
At the same time, in the past year retailers have not
noticed a sales
impact linked to the color issue.
"Our sales dipped a few years ago when the news came out,
and we have seen some migration to wild," says Scott Nettles,
business director of market/seafood for United Supermarkets of
Supply, prices steady
Despite myriad controversies, the farmed salmon industry
continues steady to higher volume.
"We will probably see a shortage of supply from Chile in the
last six months of this year, and the industry will be at about
the same level as 2007 or a little less," says Paine.
Although supply from Chile may be down over the next year,
supply from Norway, Canada and other countries is increasing.
Salmon imports have risen about 3 percent so far this year,
compared to the same time last year, according to Paine.
"In Norway, we saw about 20 percent growth last year, and it
is projected to have 9 percent growth this year," Paine
Canadian supply is steady to higher, suppliers and
consultants say. Because the country's strict government
regulations prevent overcrowding, Canadian numbers do not spike
significantly from year to year.
"We buy Canadian farm-raised. We shifted off of Chilean a
few years ago, when size and supply was an issue," says Nettles
"Supply has been matching demand. The Chileans keep
announcing heightened forecasts, but it just hasn't come to
market yet," says Keith Moores, president of F.W. Bryce in
Gloucester, Mass. In addition, Chilean suppliers want to offer
more frozen salmon, but the market is resistant to that, says
And Chilean farms need to take some time to manage ISA.
"For them to conquer ISA, they will need to reduce
production by 50 percent over the next five years. The only way
to get it under control is to reduce population densities,"
says Trent, former SOTA director.
In general, farmed salmon prices have remained steady to
slightly higher, buyers report. While the high cost of fuel has
caused big price hikes of some foods, including beef and
poultry products, salmon has remained fairly unscathed.
Relatively steady salmon prices helps with consistent
"It is still a matter of price point. With the way the
economy is, people will have to stay with farm raised," says
Doug Goodman, seafood manager and buyer for grocer Stew
Leonard's of Yonkers, N.Y. Still, sales of natural farmed
salmon, which retail for about the same premium price as wild,
are up 10 percent to 15 percent over last year, according to
In addition, the industry is starting to see some increased
pricing due to "inflationary pressures," says Moores. "In a
place like Chile, you try to keep your costs as fixed as
possible, but sometimes they're hard to control."
Salmon demand has remained steady to slightly higher in
recent years, fueled by its use in sushi, consumers preparing
it at home and restaurants trying new preparations.
"The general public is feeling more and more comfortable
with salmon, and farm-raised fish have gotten much more safe,
as far as the way critics look at it," says Daniel Stewart,
corporate chef for Rockfish Seafood Grille of Richardson,
Texas. Rockfish uses both farmed and Copper River salmon, when
it is in season.
While overall demand from both the foodservice industry and
retailers has been good, the farmed salmon industry has not
experienced the double-digit growth of about five years ago,
according to Paine. In order to experience the same rapid
growth, the industry needs to more aggressively promote salmon
and its benefits, say Paine and other observers. To that end,
SOTA plans to step up its national promotional efforts with a
national consumer campaign to promote farmed salmon this year.
The organization already advertises in consumer and trade
publications, along with medical journals.
"People are confused about the benefits of seafood. We have
to focus on medical studies and research, including the
[National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] study that
salmon had the lowest mercury risk and was the highest in
omega-3's," says SOTA's McNaughton.
Salmon's popularity rises
Farmed salmon's popularity at casual-dining restaurants as
well as continued promotion in supermarkets has led to more
consumers eating salmon on a regular basis.
Restaurants are developing unique sauces and glazes to
complement the finfish. Atlanta-based Bugaboo Creek Steak
House's Bourbon Marinated Salmon is very popular, as well as
its Salmon and Scallops Cedar Plank.
"We have had a great return on the guests coming back for
Cedar Plank Salmon," says Phil Butler, Bugaboo Creek's director
of food and beverage.
Value-added salmon products have also boosted supermarket
sales. United Supermarket's Mediterranean Crusted Salmon sales
continue to grow and Salmon Wellington, added earlier this
year, has been popular as well, says Nettles. The Salmon
Wellington from Beaver Street Fisheries of Jacksonville, Fla.,
is a stuffed salmon wrapped in philo dough that can be baked or
"We have had the Wellington for just a couple of months, and
it has just done great," says Nettles.
United Supermarkets uses frozen, pre-portioned, boneless,
skinless 6-ounce portions from Morey's of Minneapolis, and
Nettles says sales are increasing.
United has boosted sales by switching from pricing its
salmon by the pound to by the portion. The 6-ounce portions
retail for between $2.99 and $4.99 each, depending on the
Christine Blank is a freelance business writer and editor in
Lake Mary, Fla.
In addition, buyers say they are happy with farmed salmon's
consistent supply and quality.
"We've seen mostly quality improvements year after year, due
to increased production and logistical capabilities," says
"[Farmed salmon] is becoming a dietary staple, not a luxury.
And retailers are behind it because of its promotability," says
"The market is still offering a lot of opportunities to
increase consumption, because consumers want more and more
healthy food, and salmon is the best vehicle for omega-3's,"
Cedar Plank Salmon with Shrimp and Salmon Salad are two
popular Rockfish entrées.