Ups, downs of Scottish salmon production

Published on
May 28, 2012

The production of farmed Atlantic salmon in Scotland, the world’s third largest producer, is scheduled to increase by 4 percent annually, reaching 200,000-plus metric tons by 2020. (More than 154,000 metric tons were produced in 2010, the last year for which figures are available.) However, production will not rise uniformly year by year.

“In 2012, production will actually drop by 2 percent,” said David Sandison, secretary of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organization. “No new [production] capacity was introduced last year, so the 4 percent increase will not be a straight line growth.”

The rise in production will come from a 50:50 mix of creating new farm sites and increasing the capacity at existing sites, said Sandison. However, this is not a straight forward process. “It takes two to three years to get the consent in place,” he explained.

Even to expand production on existing sites presents big challenges. “There are site specific conditions we have to comply with, so effectively we have got go back and start again,” said Sandison. 

The internationality of farmed salmon production is also an issue. “In order to get investment in Scotland we have to compete with Chile, Canada and Norway,” he said.

However, Scotland seems to be doing quite well in this respect. This month, Marine Harvest of Norway, the world’s biggest salmon farmer, announced that it is investing GBP 80 million in its Scottish operations during the next five years. The firm plans to invest in new farms and processing facilities to help achieve its target of boosting production by half in the seven years to 2016, reaching 60,000 metric tons of salmon a year.

Ole-Eirik Lerøy, Marine Harvest chairman, commented that his company is operating in 21 countries. “Scotland comes out third when it comes to size,” he said, “but No. 1 when it comes to profitability. Based on the very, very good results we have seen lately we have a strong investment plan.”

The investment by Norwegian-owned companies in their Scottish subsidiaries announced this month doesn’t end there. Scottish Sea Farms said last week it will invest GBP 1.3 million in a salmon hatchery and an additional GBP 1.5 million in the site over the next two years.

The forthcoming Fisheries and Aquaculture Bill, to be introduced by the Scottish Government, could add to the costs of farming salmon in Scotland, according to Sandison. The bill, which is in its consultation stages, could be finalized this autumn and be in place next year, he said. “We are open to have an open dialogue, but we want our needs to be recognized,” he noted.

In particular, Sandison said the Scottish salmon-farming industry needs a lessening of bureaucracy. “We want a clearer pathway with access to the right support mechanisms, for example on sea lice, what medicines to use,” he said./

Although at present the consenting process for expanding production is very difficult, Scotland’s salmon exports are booming. “We have got a good foothold in America now,” said Sandison. “We are OK for the north of the country, whereas Chile supplies the southern states.”

Scotland supplies both whole fish and fillets to the United States, where Sandison said there is lot of demand for the sushi market.

Sales of Scottish salmon to China have received a “leg up due to politics,” and Scotland supplied 6,000 metric tons of fresh farmed salmon there in one year. “Coming from Scotland is a bit of a cachet, so we can sell at a bit of a premium,” said Sandison. “The Chinese appreciate strong brands. They want to do business with Scotland.”

Exports to other countries, particularly to emerging markets such as the Far East and Middle East, are also expanding. Said Sandison, We’re never going to have too much salmon.”

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500