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North Atlantic Seafood Forum: Industry Perspective

NORWAY - At the 2010 North Atlantic Seafood Forum, 428 delegates from 23 nations heard from a number of expert speakers.

The conference heard from ex-skipper Mike Park, who now heads the Scottish Fishermens’ Organisation and reminded us that fishing is still the most dangerous occupation.

"Our economic resilience is very low, apart from a small but booming pelagic sector."

He echoed the feeling that the Common Fisheries Policy(CFP) has failed, being too top–down, and management must be devolved to fishermen.

"Discarding dead fish is the single most inefficient act in any industry – the real wealth of our industry is what we leave behind in the sea." Mr Park believes that in ten years discards will not be tolerated, and in five, every fish caught must be recorded.

Seafood Scotland’s CEO Libby Woodhatch talked about the sometimes conflicting views of NGO’s and the industry, when incorrect perceptions about species at risk (such as ‘the monkfish debacle’) have to be talked through and put straight.

The UK Seafish organisation’s Responsible Fishing Scheme now has 130 boats certified, and Scotland has four MSC-certified fisheries with more in assessment. To underline that Scottish fishing is listening to, and acting on environmental concerns, she cited a ‘fishing for litter’ scheme to reduce impact of lost gear, and the 144 ‘real-time’ closures last year to protect stocks.

The conference then heard from Nordea Bank analyst Mr Giskeodegaard the currently happy story of the salmon industry – record prices and volumes, with prices expected to stay high through 2011, largely due to Chile’s problems .

"Buy salmon shares" was his advice. The grave human impact of the recent earthquake was put into sharp focus by Cermaq’s Geir Isaksen.

Luckily they lost no staff, and the farms were not seriously affected, but their Ewos feed plant was stormed by 3000 desperate people, who simply wanted the wheat flour used to make salmon feed.

While harvesting will resume in a few days, said Isaksen, he sees the future constrained by a shortage of good eggs and smolt, but recovering back to 2006 levels. "At least the lower biomass means less disease".

Moving on to the whitefish sector, Espersen’s CEO Klaus Nielsen reported a strong recovery in his company’s fortunes. He is bullish about the forward view.

"There will be more consumers, they are liking fish more, and eating it for longer as life expectancy increases – the EU average life expectancy is expected to be 84 by 2050".

With plants in China and Vietnam, he has to keep an eye on ethical issues such as child labour. Nielsen also has a goal of pushing turnover to 400 m. euros by 2015, and his final sally on behalf of whitefish (as obesity becomes a bigger issue in the West): "It’s lower in fat than salmon!"