Historically high prices for Norwegian salmon have taken a dive recently and now Norway faces renewed competition and compensation claims from Chile, where salmon farmers were nearly wiped out by a virus some believe was imported from Norway.
Norwegian newspapers have been carrying stories this week about how researchers at the University of Bergen believe the dreaded ISA-virus (infectious salmon anemia) came to Chile via fertilized salmon eggs from Norway. The virus caused enormous losses for Chilean salmon producers, with around 80 percent of the business shut down at one point, according to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN).
Now the Chilean producers are recovering and one member of Chile’s congress, Marisol Turres, is seeking compensation from the Norwegian government and Norwegian salmon industry players like Aqua Gen of Trondheim. It was identified in a recent New York Times story as being the largest Norwegian exporter of salmon eggs to Chile in 2006, the year before the illness broke out.
Aqua Gen boss Odd Magne Rødseth, however, claims Chilean politicians are exploiting the opportunity to blame Norway for their virus problems. He said his firm “along with other players n the Chilean business” are relying on conclusions from the Chilean fisheries authorities and international organizations, which claim the ISA-virus can’t be traced back to any particular land or source of infection.
Lise Bergan of fish farming giant Cermaq, in which the Norwegian state is a major owner, said it was out of the question for Cermaq or the state to offer any compensation. “We are also major players in Chile and have lost a lot on the outbreak of illness,” Bergan told DN. “We also have invested a lot in a comeback. We could claim compensation, too, but won’t make any such demand.”
Meanwhile, salmon prices have plummeted to around half of what they were just a few months ago and industry analysts predict rough times ahead for producers. Norway has exported record amounts of salmon this year, worth about NOK 15 billion (nearly USD 3 billion), based on high volume and high prices.
Salmon prices suddenly started to fall last spring, however, and producers are now getting around NOK 25 per kilo compared to NOK 45 per kilo earlier this year. Supplies boomed in May and June, analyst Kolbjørn Giskeødegård of Nordea told newspaper Aftenposten, but demand did not.
He thinks prices will stay low for the next six to 18 months. Giskeødegård expects Chile to make a comeback, adding to supply, but he thinks the long-term outlook remains bright. Salmon is popular with good distribution channels and rising demand in Brazil, China and Russia.
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