Norwegian salmon under threat

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Local media has been full of coverage lately of trouble in Norway’s important salmon industry. Conservationists fear wild salmon is threatened by parasites stemming from fish-farming facilities, while the fish-farmers now risk bad publicity not only at home but overseas. The government, meanwhile, wants to expand production at the fish farms despite warnings from a vast array of experts.

Now the head of one of Norway’s major environmental organizations, Norges Miljøvernforbund -NMF (The Green Warriors of Norway), has all but declared war on the fish-farming industry and the government.

Kurt Oddkalv (photo, right) of NMF claimsthe government has broken an agreementsigned 10 years ago that prohibited use of what NMF claims are cancer-causing chemicals used in the pellets fed to farmed fish. NMF claims Norwegian commercial fish farms “are once more using these controversial chemicals to get rid of salmon lice.”

That’s prompting NMF to spread the word internationally, not least in important salmon markets like Japan and the US. That would threaten Norwegian salmon sales, which comprise one of the country’s most important exports after oil.

One of Oddkalv’s main targets is Norway’s new Fisheries Minister, Lisbeth Berg-Hansen. Her appointmentalso has sparked controversybecause she’s part-owner of a major salmon producer herself, Sinkaberg-Hansen AS, which is under police investigation for having higher levels of parasites in its fish farms than allowed. Wild salmon advocates, Members of Parliament and environmental groups in addition to NMF have questioned her impartiality on fish-farming issues.On Friday Berg-Hansen was defending the government’s proposal to boost production at fish-farming facilities (called oppdrett in Norwegian) by 5 percent. The higher production allowances at the fish farms dotting Norway’s coastal areas will generate an estimated NOK 360 million for state coffers based on taxes on oppdrett revenues, reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) .

State fisheries and wildlife conservation agencies, environmental groups and not least the advocates of Norway’s remaining wild salmon, all oppose higher production by fish farmers. They fear the fish-farming industry is already out of control and the parasite problem will explode.

Berg-Hansen, however, says her support for the expansion is based on “long-term strategies” for the fish-farming industry. She denied the prospect of millions in new tax revenues prompted her to defy all the experts. Rather, she told DN, all use of the seas is “hugely important” to Norway’s coastal areas “and we think it’s reasonable to allow growth” of the fish farms.

The fact that the state stands to make money as well, she said, “is only a natural consequence” of the expansion. Other battles are brewing over how the extra tax revenues should be used. Some want them earmarked for the coastal areas and fish farmers, which Berg-Hansen opposes.

Fish-farming ‘greed’

Meanwhile, Oddkalv claims the fish-farming industry already has grown “totally out of proportion” and is characterized by “extreme greed.”

Norwegian export officials and, reportedly, embassies overseas are bracing for Oddkalv’s international campaign against farmed salmon, and for another mounted by the Canadian organization, Pure Salmon Campaign. It has produced a film now being shown overseas that criticizes the Norwegian fish farming industry and commercial producers.

Christian Chramer of the state export council told DN, though, that “we have experienced (threats) before, without them getting much play in international media.”