Addicts: Fishupdate.com reported that the Norwegian Fisheries Minister, Per Sandberg had told a political meeting this week that the ‘UK is addicted to Norway’. He was replying to concerns from economists and fisheries leaders who wanted Oslo to secure a post Brexit deal with the UK as soon as possible.

Mr Sandberg said that he wasn’t worried at the absence of a deal right now because he believes that Britain will become an even better market for Norway once the UK has left the EU. He said that “the UK is addicted to Norway”. “They come to Norway to learn about governance, how Norway negotiates our ocean resources, what we do in relation to aquaculture and to look at future technology. They (the British) don’t come to talk about fish and chips.”

Mr Sandberg said that the UK is different to other markets in the sense they are led by the consumer and not by the fish processing industry. According to Mr Sandberg, the only thing Britons want in their fish and chips is Norwegian cod or haddock and this would not change with Brexit.

It may be that after Brexit, strong links between the UK and Norway will be maintained and Norwegian cod and haddock will continue to flow into the UK but if they do, it is not because of the consumer. In our view, most British consumers don’t know the origin of the fish they eat and probably care even less. What concerns them much more is the price they pay and how it tastes, which in the case of fish and chips probably has more to do with the batter than the fish.

There may well be some fish and chips shops in the UK that advertise that the fish they sell comes from Norway but we have yet to see one. Mr Sandberg might even like to cast his mind back to earlier this year when he came to London for a conference about Norwegian cod and haddock. He was taken for lunch at a fish and chip shop (with tables for eating in) near Westminster. The fish and chip shop didn’t have one single reference to Norway or Norwegian fish. As it happens, we turned up at the same time as Mr Sandberg and asked the PR people milling about how they knew the fish being served were Norwegian because we certainly couldn’t tell.

We, at Callander McDowell, don’t think that this particular fish and chip shop is any different to any other. If any establishment is going to promote the origin of the fish they sell, they are most likely to do so on their website. We carried out a brief search for a fish and chip shop that might do so. The first chippy we looked at came to attention because it was relatively local and because it had reached the finals of the fish and chip shop of the year competition which is sponsored by Norway.

We would point out that this chippy was a purely arbitrary selection. We have never eaten its fish and chips or even been there. We didn’t even know anything about it until we looked. We are not trying to make an example of them. We are simply looking to see if they highlight the origin of the fish they sell.

Richardson’s Fish Bar is in the North-West town of Fleetwood. It was a major fishing port but the fishing disappeared after the cod war with Iceland although the town continues to be a base for fish processing. In 2013, Richardson’s was the regional winner in the fish and chip shop of the year competition. As part of their prize, they went on a three-day trip to Ålesund to learn how Norway manages its sustainable fisheries. They went on a trawler to watch and learn about the process of frozen at sea cod.

At the time, their hosts hoped that Richardson’s and the other chippies would become natural ambassadors for Norway in the UK, spreading the Norwegian sustainability story to their colleagues and customers.

Subsequently, Richardson’s became part of the Union Norge network, which hoped to celebrate fish and chip shops unified by a passion for frozen at sea cod and haddock and hoping to benefit from an integrated marketing campaign. We are not aware whether Union Norge still exists as a network as we have heard little more about it. However, when we looked at Richardson’s website http://www.thefishhousefleetwood.co.uk/, we noticed that the home page includes a reference to Union Norge but it seems that that’s where any refence to Norway ends.

Included on their website, is their environmental policy which states that ‘we will only ever use Haddock, Cod, Alaska Pollock, Cape Hake from sustainable fishing sources.’ But they don’t say where.

Under a heading of Fleetwood’s Finest Fish, their menu lists Haddock fillet – Mouth-watering, raised for years in the deep, calm, stressless depths of the North Sea – and Cod fillet – Chunky white tender flakes, lean and moist with a mild delicate flavour.

It does seem to us that if Richardson’s fish and chip shop is not shouting about the origin of the fish they sell, it is indicative of the level of interest of their customers. It would appear that they are not so addicted to Norwegian fish as Mr Sandberg would believe. Of course, that does not mean that British consumers will not enjoy Norwegian cod and haddock for years to come, it’s just that they are not so interested in its Norwegian origins.

 

What market?: We believe that back in the early 1990’s we were the first to really talk about market production and market led strategies and the need to move from one to another. It seems that not much has changed. According to Intrafish, Ståle Høyem, purchasing director of Suempol in Norway told an audience at a seminar organised by the Seafood Council and Nordea during AquaNor that he had asked the company’s suppliers to identify the five biggest challenges in the salmon market. He said only one had mentioned the market. Instead, all refer to costs and disease and production restrictions. Mr Høyem was not impressed and we tend to agree.

Mr Høyem said that as a processor the company has never had such big challenges as now with quality and price. He seems to suggest that production issues may affect the farmer but they also affect the market. He said that he has never seen so many quality issues from melanin staining, poor texture and weak colour and it only becomes apparent when the fish arrives at the processing plant. Yet, the company is expected to pay the same price for the fish regardless.

Ståle Høyem also repeated our view that there is a new everyday life in the salmon industry that is related to shares and investors. He said that he used to be able to negotiate a contract price for the fish they buy which meant that farmers took a fixed margin. However, farmers get criticised by investors if they sign long contracts at lower prices so now it is impossible to enter into a contract so they are now reliant on the spot market to source their salmon.

The downside of forcing prices up to satisfy investors is that demand is down in some key markets. Mr Høyem says that demand in France and Germany is down over 10% and in Poland the figure is more than 30%.

We suspect that Mr Høyem’s comments fell on deaf ears. AquaNor is dedicated to ‘production’ and thus talk of the market is not a priority. However this is something that should change since farmers are usually protected from the marketplace by the supply chain and thus never get to see the implications of their actions.

 

Awesome too: This week, there has been a flurry of press releases emanating from the wild fish sector which have attracted our attention. The first is another one from Salmon & Trout Conservation about the River Awe counter which we discussed in the last issue of reLAKSation. It seems that the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation issued a response, although we have had difficulty navigating their website to find exactly what they said but evidently, they made a comment that grilse don’t return to the Awe until autumn implying that it was a bit premature of the S&TC to argue that the Awe fishery has collapsed.

The S&TC refute this claim saying that there has never been a significant run of salmon or grilse in the autumn on the Awe since records began. They have included a graph showing the average of the weekly counts. We are not going to comment on the graph as we have never seen the raw data on which it is based.

Instead, the Awe fisheries management plan states that ‘Multi sea-winter salmon enter the fishery from spring and early summer while the more numerous one sea-winter grilse generally return from mid-summer through to autumn’.  In another document, the local fisheries trust states that ‘the majority of smaller rivers are reported to have late running grilse which enter rivers from August through to October.

However, whether grilse run now or in October is largely irrelevant at this time because the BBC report that another video has been released by the Ness District Salmon Fishery Board about the continued invasion by pink salmon. The original video can be seen at  https://www.facebook.com/FishtheNess/videos/1544024252324020/ and shows pink salmon spawning in the River Ness. This is an exceptional video but is also a major and significant development in the Scottish wild fish sector and can only heighten concerns about the native stock. We can only wonder why Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland are focused on grilse runs at the same time as an invasive species is starting to spawn in the same rivers as native stock. We may be connected to the salmon farming industry but we still recognise what a threat these fish represent. It does seem that there is some uncertainty as what to do. This week Fisheries Management Scotland also issued a press release this week to update their advice on these pink invaders. They say that they are now taking the lead in close discussion with Marine Scotland Science. They have also been liaising with other Government agencies and authorities in Ireland and Norway.  Meanwhile, it seems that Marine Scotland have contacted the GB non-native secretariat to establish a formal peer reviewed risk assessment and Marine Scotland Science are seeking genetic material from potential source populations in Russia to identify the origin of the fish captured in Scotland. How this reduces the threat is beyond us. It’s quite clear as to the origins of these fish as colonisation by this species has been advancing towards the UK for some time. The reality is that the fish are here now.

Comments we have read suggest that there are some people who do not think these fish to be a threat because they are different to our native fish. It is correct that they are different. They are much smaller and thus do not usually expand so much energy by swimming miles up river systems. However, rivers in the UK are much smaller than many in their natural range. Pinks have a short life cycle which is why they have developed into even and odd year populations. They don’t live long enough for different years to mix. When the young fish hatch, they immediately swim out to sea to feed, staying out for about eighteen months before returning to their natal river to spawn and then die. However, they are known to enter non-natal rivers without problem, which is perhaps what we are now seeing.

Whilst we have no idea what has caused this mass migration to UK and Irish rivers this year, pinks are adaptable and with changes occurring out at sea, anything could be possible. It does seem sensible that every attempt should be made to reduce the risk to Scottish and Irish rivers. We are aware of transplanting pinks to the Kola Peninsula by the Russians many years ago but less known is that pinks have also been transplanted to Newfoundland and to Lake Superior, where populations have been established. They have also been reported in Nova Scotia and Quebec. It now seems that Scotland may soon be added to that list.

According to BBC News, the Ness District Salmon Fishery Board are increasing their efforts to monitor the pink invasion (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-40947038). They have employed a drone with a camera to look for evidence of nests (redds) in the river. On one single day, they identified at least fifteen redds. The question now is what to do?

We would argue that divers should be sent into the river to destroy any redd that is known to be the result of pink salmon spawning. Leaving the redds alone is one way to ensure that pink salmon could become an established part of Scottish river life.

We, at Callander McDowell, would happily debate the issues of farmed salmon with Salmon & Trout Conservation but they are unwilling to emerge from behind their media screen. If they did, they perhaps might see that the real threat to Scottish wild salmon comes from the pink invasion. By the time they start to act it may well be too late. This is not the first time that they have been slow to react.

We recently came across a nearly complete archive of Trout and Salmon magazine. The Salmon & Trout Association (Conservation) used to have space in each issue to pass on their news. Interestingly, for the five years following the collapse of the Loch Maree sea trout fishery, not one word was written about salmon farming or its impacts. How times have changed.