Marine Harvest at center of clouded 2018 forecast

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Forecasts made for parent companies in Norway on likely production counts in Ireland and Scotland diverge from the ground-level reality of growers in those countries, SalmonBusiness has learned.

Growers we consulted suggest detail on the full effects of early harvests due to “environmental effects” are still trickling out of the North Atlantic countries and may not be fully grasped out-of-country. Details like a Marine Harvest biomass shuffle might have somehow contributed to far lower locally compiled forecasts compared to those made abroad.

Numbers crunched by Kristiansund-based Kontali Analyse that appeared this week in the earnings report of Austevoll Seafoods — with interests in Scottish Sea Farms via its Leroy Seafoods holdings — suggest a nine percent drop in Scotland’s salmon production this year. The Scottish salmon industry, however, has issued guidance that a 12 percent drop in harvested volumes is foreseen for 2018.

“Drawing from the recently published Q4 figures, the Scottish salmon sector as a whole is forecasting a reduced harvest of circa 130,000 tonnes, down some 17,000 t or 12 percent year-on-year,” an industry source in Scotland told SalmonBusiness.

Shunting
Of that reduction in predicted tonnage, Marine Harvest accounts for some 13,000 t which the Norway-based grower has attributed to a change in stocking pattern, the source — who was citing the industry’s own survey —  said. Apart from biomass shunting from the world’s largest salmon farmer, industry-wide early harvests in 2017 due to ocean climate issues will affect Scottish harvests more, it seems, than may be understood outside of Scotland.

“These early harvests arose after environmental challenges —  challenges that were brought about by (ocean) climate changes and experienced by the whole of the sector — resulted in some crops experiencing gill health issues,” the source wrote.

Read Marine Harvest Rum award a 2018 Scottish first

Scotland operators Marine Harvest Scotland and Scottish Sea Farms confirmed for SalmonBusiness that expected harvests in 2018 would diverge dramatically from the Kontali numbers they saw. Apart from seeing Scotland producing nine percent less, the Norway-based analysts have Ireland producing over 4.7 percent more salmon in 2018.

“No, we will not be projecting any harvest volume increase (in Ireland),” Pat Connors said in an email. “Regarding MH Ireland, we are not projecting any biomass increase in 2018.”

Kontali Analyse manager, Ragnar Nystoyl

No increases
A Marine harvest technical manager called the 4.5 percent hike for Ireland “very optimistic”. “There are no new salmon licenses in Ireland and we are not planning to increase our production in 2018,” she said.

Scottish Sea Farms managing director, Jim Gallagher, suggested the biological results of his company’s salmon harvest might be better than for most, but the company was still a microcosm for the troubles that afflicted the industry last year.

“We experienced good biological performance on the vast majority of our farms in 2017. However, at three of our farms we encountered the same environmental challenges as the rest of the sector and took the decision to harvest early,” Gallagher said.

“This decision was made in the best interests of fish health and welfare but will have a knock-on effect on our 2018 production which is projected to be 26,000 t, down 5,000 t on 2017.”

Handle with care
Kontali salmon analyst, Ragmar Nystoyl, told SalmonBusiness that with smaller fish sizes and volumes — “five, six or seven thousand tonnes one year and then production the next” —  plus the issues that cause “the anticipation of decline” the year after a cull, that numbers needed to be read carefully.

“(The forecast divergence) is primarily the result of (smolt) release structures,” Nystoyl said over the phone. “Time will tell. It’s not final, of course. The dynamic of the salmon industry is that we’re just two months into the year and a lot can happen to humble us all.”

Read Marine Harvest results divide analysts

He said that even in Ireland, where Marine Harvest produces two-thirds of the country’s salmon, “When we have an indication of production harvests increasing on Ireland one should respect that it’s less than 1,000 t. Typically, an estimate of slight changes in production harvest plans, biomass forwarding for example, it’s really not a huge difference, 500 t for example.”

Worldwide, Kontali numbers show global salmon production in 2018 rising five percent to 2.4 million t. The European salmon harvest is seen rising 5.3 percent to 1.6 million t.

Although the forced early harvest mentioned in this article was a fish-welfare move taken to avoid fish mortality, or “morts”, our original title, Marine Harvest, “morts” cloud 2018 Scotland forecasts was altered to better reflect a story largely about how numbers presented in one location can feel wrong on-the-ground in another.