The View from Norway

The Price of Salmon Wealth – Article from Daglbladet

The salmon farming industry creates enormous wealth, but the price for the environment is high, writes John Olav Egeland in Dagbladet, 17 February 2018

The Norwegian salmon industry has created enormous wealth. Gustav Magnar Witzøe (24), heir to the Salmar company, is the world’s third youngest billionaire with a fortune worth NOK 11 billion. If anyone should be in any doubt: There is a lot of money to be made with salmon and sea trout.

However, there have been a number of issues in recent weeks that show the problems that fish farming is faced with. The most important piece of news came from the annual Fisheries Report from the Veterinary Institute. The report documents soaring salmon mortality rates. More than a year ago, Lerøy Midt (co-owner of Scottish Sea Farms) was fined a record sum of 1.4 million Kroner for allowing 25,000 salmon to die in a fish farm at Hitra.

Earlier this week 54,000 salmon escaped from the Marine Harvest plant in Nærøy in Trøndelag. The reason was a hole in the net. The total number of escaped fish reported throughout the country last year was five times. It is only a few days since the police arrested two people, charged with involvement in making false statements to the public authorities, in a case concerning suspected exports of salmon with pancreas disease to China.

These cases demonstrate some of the main issues related to the industry: failure to control salmon lice, poor animal welfare, permanent disease problems, genetic contamination of wild species and a weak regulatory framework. In addition, there are massive pollution problems that have destroyed or weakened living fjord systems and important fishing and protected sites in several areas.

In its report, the Veterinary Institute states that fish is Norway’s most important livestock, and that it is crucial to ensure its good health. Having control of the health and welfare challenges of fish farms is crucial to the question of possible further growth in the industry. “Without good health, we will not achieve the goal of sustainable growth,” the report says.

According to the Directorate of Fisheries, the industry suffered a loss of 53 million salmon in both 2016 and 2017. Most of these losses were a result of injury and disease. For salmon, 88% of that loss was in 2017, according to the Veterinary Institute. The fight against lice is paradoxically an important cause of the high loss figures. Immunity to chemicals and pharmaceuticals are no longer effective in eradicating sea lice. Therefore, lice treatments have become increasingly mechanical, using different types of flushing and brushing. These methods are harsh on the fish, often causing injury that develops into disease. Another problem is related to the so-called “cleaner” fish, such as wrasse and lumpsucker, which eat the lice. Last year, 37 million of these “cleaner” fish were reared on farms and caught from the wild to be used on fish farms. The Veterinary Institute writes in its report: “Mortality is high and there are significant welfare challenges associated with the use of cleaner fish”.

Many people ask if fish is an animal species that demands attention to welfare and quality of life. The vast majority of researchers believe that fish have the ability to consciously record sensory impressions and thus experience feelings such as fear, pain and discomfort. Fish are covered by the animal welfare act and therefore have the same protection requirements as other animals. High mortality is a sure sign that it is bad for the welfare of salmon. In 2017 the mortality rate was 13.2% for salmon and 16% for sea trout. The numbers are not just an ethical challenge; they also have an economic impact. Half of mortality is estimated to have a value of NOK 8 – 9 billion. Sea lice treatments alone cost the industry around NOK five billion a year.

The past few years have been a golden age for the owners in the aquaculture industry. Profit levels have been significantly higher than other industries, also as a result of high salmon prices. But no one has yet calculated the total costs, including its effects on the environment. An indicator is the slowdown in the production of salmon. While the government’s goal is a five-fold increase in production, the reality is that the volume is not increasing. Lice and fish diseases are the main causes. This is nature’s own protest, and it is telling us that the long-term price of salmon farming will be high.

Translated from Norwegian

The original article was published on 17 February 2018 on the website of Dagbladet


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