Riskiest?: We were sent the link to a recently published report from the ICES Working Group on North Atlantic Salmon (WGNAS) which addresses questions from NASCO (North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation) to help them better manage stocks of North Atlantic Salmon. Whilst, we at Callander McDowell have had involvement with another ICES workshop looking at the impact of salmon farming on wild salmon, the WGNAS group has not really attracted our attention. However, this time, we had a browse through the report (http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/acom/2017/WGNAS/wgnas_2017.pdf) and we were attracted by a short section entitled ‘Update on sea lice investigations in Norway’. It wasn’t so much that this report included a section on sea lice but that there is an assumption that only Norway is engaged in sea lice research, after all there were representatives from 15 countries present at the WGNAS working group, not just Norwegians. This focus on Norway doesn’t surprise us because the workshop that we attended also had the same focus on Norwegian research. We have previously written of our experience at this workshop where a short presentation that our Dr Jaffa gave about interactions between salmon farming and wild salmon did not elicit one single question. We can only assume that this was because we had adopted a different approach to the question of the impact of salmon farming which potentially contradicted the Norwegian view. We should point out that when we say Norwegian view, we mean the view of a handful of Norwegian researchers whose work seems to dominate current thinking on sea lice. We subsequently wrote to all the participants from that workshop asking for their view on our observation of opposing catch trends and we received just one reply and that was somewhat vague.
The views expressed in the WGNAS report came to mind when we learned from IntraFish that the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research has just published its annual risk report for Norwegian aquaculture. The report states that sea lice and escaped farmed salmon still represent the biggest environmental challenge in Norway. IMR say that there is a clear correlation between intensive farming in the sea and infection of sea lice on wild salmon. According to Intrafish, IMR uses both monitoring the abundance of lice on wild salmon and advanced models that calculate the number of infectious lice in different areas to find out how big the infection pressure is on wild salmon.
We, at Callander McDowell, have a different view. In our opinion, the biggest risk comes from the risk report itself. The report is written by some of the same researchers who seem to work permanently on the issue of sea lice. Certainly, the impression we gained from our attendance at the ICES workshop was that these researchers already had a preconception that salmon farming was responsible for any declines in wild salmon and they are intent on proving the relationship. Salmon farming is guilty unless proven innocent and in our opinion, this is unlikely to happen, at least in Norway. This is simply because other than possibly one independent researcher, no-one is working on disproving the relationship between salmon farming and declining wild stocks. Clearly, it is harder to disprove the relationship, than proving it, especially when as in the case of sea lice, most of the evidence is circumstantial.
Our view is that there are too many yet unanswered questions to allow a small group of researchers to dominate sea lice thinking. They have a view but it is not the only view. We won’t be convinced otherwise until these researchers can start to answer our questions. Until then, we believe that the biggest risk to salmon farming comes from this narrow approach to sea lice research.
No Result: IntraFish highlight a report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health that shows fish consumption in Norway for the year 2015 was 49.1kg per head. This compares with 2005 which was exactly the same. By comparison, consumption of meat increased by seven percent from 71.3kg/head to 76.3/head.
Gunn Harriet Knutsen, Head of Environment and Health in Seafood Norway told Intrafish that campaigns to persuade people to eat more seafood have not had the desired effect. There has been talk about increasing seafood consumption for over twenty years but without success. We, at Callander McDowell, are not surprised.
Norway may be a major producer of fish and seafood, both farmed and wild, but we suspect that many Norwegians are no different to other Europeans with a diminishing interest in eating fish. There are many reasons why fish is no long of appeal to the public; probably even too many to discuss here. The one which caught our interest is probably not the most obvious and that is health.
Intrafish report that Seafood Norway, amongst others, has signed a memorandum with the Ministry of Health to increase the consumption of healthier foods such as fruit, vegetables and fish in Norway. The intention is that fish and seafood businesses will sign up to help make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices. The aim is that by 2021, Norwegians will eat 20% more healthier foods. The health authorities will help promote healthier foods by producing a yes and no list of foods to eat or not. Fish will appear on the yes list and red meat, when eaten in quantity will be on the no list. However, Gunn Harriet Knutsen says that they would rather focus on telling people what to eat more of than be negative about foods on the no list and for us, at Callander McDowell, there’s the rub. Clearly, nutrition is an important part in ensuring body health but people don’t like to be told what they should be eating, especially in relation to health unless they are advised to amend their diet by their doctor on the grounds that their health is compromised. The average person doesn’t want to eat food just because it is perceived to be healthier for them.
Whilst food ultimately is a source of energy that keeps people alive, most people’s choice of the food they eat is directed at foods they enjoy and to us, this is the key to increasing fish consumption. Eating fish should be about enjoying eating fish because it tastes good not because it is perceived to be healthy. In fact, the perception about fish can be that it is to be eaten at times when people are ill and are unable to digest proper meals. Simple cod dishes might even be perceived to be hospital food; something which is usually not enjoyed.
The health message is often reinforced by the availability of omega-3 supplements. On one hand, consumers are told omega-3 is good for their health and to eat more fish but at the same time, they see these supplements promoted almost like a medicine.
Of course, fish and seafood is healthy, but it isn’t necessary to ram that message down consumers’ throats. Consumers are never going to enjoy fish if it is perceived to be a health food. Consumers need to be shown that fish and seafood can be enjoyed.
As part of the Joint Action for Health, Annechen B Bugge of the Consumer research institute SIFO said research shows that people say that they are concerned about a healthy diet but at the same time it is not so obvious that their diet reflects their concerns. This is nothing new as consumers often say one thing and then do another.
SIFO also found that around 60% of Norwegians say that food and dinner are an important part of the weekend and that it is a time when it is fun to get together and cook. This is less contentious that eating healthy food and is probably a better reflection of what people do. Surely, if such a high proportion of the public express the importance of weekend eating then there must be an opportunity to build on this enjoyment. Fish and seafood should be fun not a chore.
Twisting the spin: The North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) whose aim is to end mixed stock netting to ensure anglers have more fish to catch have jumped into the aquaculture debate. Their latest press release states that a stop to all further open salmon sea farming in Norway has been announced. They say that the news of the halt in the expansion of the industry was announced by Mr Stein Lier-Hansen, CEO of Norsk Industri.
Welcoming the Norsk Industri statement, Jens Olav Flekke, Chairman of NASF (Norway) said: “This underscores a policy to abandon all further open sea salmon farming despite the industry´s high margins because the necessary conservation measures overshadow the temporary extreme profits.”
We, at Callander McDowell, read this press release with surprise because whilst Mr Lier-Hansen might have announced his vision for Norwegian industry as a road map aiming for no lice and no escapes, it was just a vision not a call for action. NASF are either misinformed or deliberately misinterpreting what Mr Lier-Hansen said.
The problem is that the NASF news story will not remain just on their website. It has already been retweeted within angling circles. The likelihood is that before too long, it will be picked up by the mainstream press and be perceived to be the reality. This is the downside of an industry trying to be too transparent. It leaves itself unnecessarily open to attack.
The aim of NASF is to restore salmon stocks to their historic abundance. This is never going to happen. They are living in a different universe to the real world. However, if they want to protect wild salmon then perhaps they should first of all demand that all rod caught salmon be returned to the rivers so they can breed and reproduce as a start to rebuilding numbers. Surely, it is possible to partake in the sport of angling without resorting to killing the fish that are caught.
This is yet another example of salmon farming being blamed for declines in fish numbers that are caused by other factors.
Small mouthful: Intrafish poses the question as to whether smaller retail pack sizes are the key to tackling high salmon prices. According to the Dutch processor Visscher Seafood, this may be the best strategy for now. They say that it seems to be a better strategy than raising prices in stores.
The company says that when salmon prices increase, there are three ways that retailers can respond. They can reduce margins, increase process or reduce the size of the pack. They have been watching how two of their customers have handled the higher prices. They say one increased the retail price of the 300g pack of salmon fillets by 29% from €6 to €7.75 which brought about a significant reduction in demand. The second supermarket chose to reduce package size, whilst increasing the price by only 8%. In addition, they accepted a lower margin. The retailer found that sales increased compared with the previous year.
We are not sure whether these two customers offer a direct comparison of what happens when the pack size is reduced since the second retailer also increased the price and took a lower cut. It is unclear which of these actions or whether it was all three contributed to the increased sales, which equally may have not been very much.
Consumers are already familiar with the strategy of cutting pack sizes to maintain prices. Recently, there has been a bit of an uproar in the UK about packaging that has remained the same size but where the contents are much reduced. There was also a major outcry when Toblerone bars, a familiar sight in airport duty free shops, that are sold in the UK, had their distinctive triangles spaced further apart to reduce the overall weight.
Reducing the weight of salmon packs is also nothing new. One of the retailers highlighted was selling salmon in 300g packs, something that disappeared from the UK retail scene a long time ago. Pack sizes have been reduced in virtually all supermarkets. The smallest is now 220g in weight giving fillet equivalents of 110g each, which is small and well below the 140g portion recommended as part of the healthy eating campaign.
However, 110g is not the smallest we have seen. A couple of years ago, salmon fillets were being sold in a 360g pack except this was not a 360g of two fillets but one of four. Whether you could call these 90g strips of salmon a fillet is doubtful, but what was clear was 90g of salmon isn’t much more than a mouthful.
How far it is possible to keep reducing the pack size of salmon to combat high prices is uncertain but what is clear is that small sizes and high prices is a minefield that salmon producers should never cross. It is akin to taking consumers for a ride. We think most consumers would put such packs down and go and buy a chicken fillet instead.