Averøy, Norway-based Pure Norwegian Seafood (PNS) has been selling frozen salmon unsuitable for human consumption, in violation of company protocols and Norwegian law.
Frøya, Norway-headquartered salmon farmer Måsøval, which has owned 65 percent of PNS since 2021, discovered irregularities in the company’s operations in October 2023. Since Måsøval’s acquisition of a majority stake in PNS in 2021, it has handed off much of its salmon to PNS for processing and export. Its subsequent investigation found PNS had exported between 400 to 500 metric tons (MT) of farmed salmon that was legally required to be discarded or ensiled, and production-graded fish that should have been subject to secondary processing before export, were shipped to customers in 20 European countries, primarily in Eastern Europe. The sales accounted for 1 percent of PNS’s total annual sales by volume and 0.5 percent by value over the past three years.
“The findings suggest that the customers were aware of what they were buying and specifically demanded frozen salmon in these categories,” Måsøval said in a release.
The illegal activity was halted once discovered and “there have been no indications that the irregularly traded products have affected people's health,” according to Måsøval CEO and Pure Norwegian Seafood Chair Helge Kvalvik.
“The most serious issue, in our opinion, is that the investigation uncovers systematic and concealed sales of salmon that should not have gone to human consumption. Specific customers have, upon request, been able to purchase frozen salmon that is self-dead, damaged, sexually mature, or so-called floor fish,” Kvalvik said. “In addition, production fish has been exported. This category of salmon is suited for human consumption, but must be processed and corrected in Norway before export, according to Norwegian regulations. It is serious that production fish has been exported without first being corrected in Norway.”
Måsøval reported its suspicions to the Norwegian Food Safety Authority on 20 October 2023. Two PNS employees have suspended as a result of the investigation.
“These activities have been kept concealed. Neither the board of PNS, Måsøval as a supplier, nor the auditors have discovered it until now. There have been inspections and controls from the Norwegian authorities in recent years, but the activities have not been possible to uncover. We must learn as much as possible from this matter,” Kvalvik said.
PNS worked with independent exports to determine that none of the samples tested positive for salmonella. It found the percentage of samples contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes were “somewhat higher than what is expected to be found naturally.” Listeria was only detected on the outside of the fish, it reported.
“This is a very serious matter. Quality and credibility are crucial for our entire industry. The investigation is not a verdict and does not give final answers, but it documents activities that are both surprising and disappointing,” Kvalvik said. “Considerable work has been done to address these issues, and we are continuing those efforts.”
Kvalvik said Måsøval is considering its next steps, and is awaiting further action from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority.
“For Måsøval, this is a serious and disappointing matter, both as a shareholder and supplier. Måsøval and PNS upmost priority is dialogue with the authorities and to facilitate government authorities' investigation activities,” Kvalvik said. “Secondly, Måsøval will also consider its own contractual legal rights and possible compensation matters. At the same time, it is crucial for Måsøval, as a responsible owner, to support PNS, its customers, and especially the employees as best as possible in this difficult situation. Despite the investigation, organizational changes, and new procedures and requirements, the production workers at PNS have delivered every day.”
PNS Acting CEO Remy Strømskag acknowledged his company had misstepped.
"These have been tough months for everyone working at PNS. PNS and our employees are rightly known and recognized for the high quality of the products we export," Strømskag said in a PNS release. "It is tough to acknowledge that the company has exported frozen salmon that does not live up to our standards. This should have been reported and addressed earlier. We are now working together to ensure that something like this will never happen again."
Photo courtesy of Måsøval