The Salmon is touted as Norway’s all-time greatest conqueror, a fish that has, in the shadow of the first Norwegian oil rigs, spawned a second industrial revolution. The Norwegian Salmon, alongside other ingredients of the country’s bustling aquaculture industry, is big business — a sector that constitutes 0.7 per cent of the Norway’s GDP. Every day, all year round, some 38 million meals of Norwegian seafood is served worldwide, with 11 million of these being Norwegian Salmon meals.
That the salmon is a staple today is thanks to a robust fish farming industry that has expanded at rapid speed in recent decades in Norway, where in 2016 around 1.18 million metric tonnes were produced. Norway is the world’s top producer of farmed Atlantic salmon, with companies such as Marine Harvest ASA — the world’s largest salmon farmer, and operates hatcheries, processes and packages the Atlantic Salmon. Marine Harvest, which is based in Norway’s second largest city, Bergen, and had a turnover of Euro 3.6 billion in 2016, has expanded operations beyond Norway to Canada, Chile and Scotland to diversify the country risk.
“As a result of its ongoing innovation and sustainable development practices in the Norwegian fisheries business, Marine Harvest now meets about one fifth of global demand,” Marine Harvest spokesperson, Ola Helge Hjetland told visiting Indian journalists. Other leading Norwegian producers include Salmar, Leroy Seafood, Grieg Seafood and Norway Royal Salmon.
While Germany and France are the biggest markets for Norwegian Salmon, China is the big emerging market, with recent news of a relaxation in tariffs by the Chinese government on seafood imports, including Salmon, coming as a shot in the arm for players such as Marine Harvest.
While the link between seafood exports and the Nobel Prize may appear to be tenuous, the Peace Prize for 2010 did have a bearing on the fate of Norwegian Salmon flows to China. Diplomatic and trade ties between Norway and China broke down in 2010 over the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, which began to improve only in December 2016. A decision by China earlier this year to lower duties on seafood is a step in the direction. Japan is already the biggest Asian market for Norwegian Salmon, with much of the demand attributed to the increasing popularity of sushi.
Is India — a large seafood consuming country — on the radar? Norwegian salmon, according to Hjetland, has been sold in India for the past decade or more, but this has been restricted largely to the high-end segment of hotels and restaurants and the resultant volumes are small. In India, imported seafood has an import duty varying from 10 to 30 per cent, depending on the product and payable to the Central government, in addition to other levies ranging between 7 and 10 per cent. So products such as the Norwegian salmon cannot compete with 95 per cent of the local fish. One ray of hope is in the form of the on-going discussions between the EFTA (European Free Trade Association — the intergovernmental organisation of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) and India for a free trade pact, but these negotiations have been ongoing without conclusion for years. A wrapping up of the pact could mean lower duties, and a potential widening of the window for Norwegian Salmon to be shipped into India.
The global success of the Norwegian Salmon hinges on the fact that it is a farmed product. While many other raw materials from both land and sea are inherently seasonal, fresh Salmon can be on the menu all year round. With a coastline of 101,000 kilometres, the Scandinavian nation has innumerable cold, clear fjords that provide ideal growing conditions for the Salmon and other fish.
A typical fish farm consists of between six and ten cages, holding 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of fish. The cage consists of a buoyancy element on the surface and a net bag in which the fish swim. Recent weeks have seen a sharp decline in Salmon prices and companies such as Marine Harvest have cut their harvest volume guidance. Salmon prices had peaked at around 80 Norwegian Kroner (around Rs 560) per kilo in early January of 2017 at a time when supply constraints supported prices, but have since fallen as volumes grew. According to experts, the “severe biological issues” in Norway were taking the total harvest outlook for 2017 to a historical low level for the group.