Mowi: “These are obviously bad things for our reputation”

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Major lice problems at some sites, several escapes and a Canadian Prime Minister threatening to remove all open-pen farms in BC, where Mowi operates. 2019 has so far been a challenging year for Mowi.

“These are obviously bad things for our reputation, but we will work hard to improve the way we work and make sure that the fish are good and stay in the cages,” communications manager Eivind Nævdal-Bolstad told Salmon Business.

While over two-thirds of salmon and trout that escaped in 2018 belonged to Mowi – a total of over 100,000 fish, the figure is far lower so far this year for Mowi. However, the number of escapes is several this year for the company, a total of seven compared to five last year.

“Of course, we report all escapes from Mowi, and two of the cases reported are, for example, the escape of a single fish. In total, about 10,000 fish have escaped from our site this year. Nevertheless, the number of incidents is too many, and there are various reasons for how the damages occur. We have our own training program that our employees have to go through, and we also share experiences internally within the company. In many cases, there are also many external contributors to treatment and handling, and we must also ensure that they have enough training and knowledge,” explains Nævdal-Bolstad.

Will not comment
The CEO of Mowi, Alf-Helge Aarskog, took self-criticism in Dagens Næringsliv in April this year following the high escape numbers in 2018. Aarskog has not wanted to answer questions from Salmon Business about the problems the company has had this year.

“I answer almost always, but our policy is not to comment on issues in a quiet period, ie between the end of the quarter and stock market presentation,” Aarskog replies in an e-mail to Salmon Business.

Mowi presents the figures for the third quarter on October 30.

He also says that the case in Dagens Næringsliv concerned events a year before the article was published and was well known.

More slaughter due to lice pressure
But it’s not just the escapes that Mowi has struggled with. The company has had major lice problems at Rønstad in Volda municipality, and also at two other sites in the immediate area. At Rønstad, Mowi has desperately tried to get below the maximum lice limit for weeks, without success. This resulted in the company having to start slaughter, and receive daily fines of EUR 33,000 from the Food Safety Authority. Here, too, fish escaped.

“This weekend we slaughtered two cages, and this week we will take out some more fish. In addition, we will treat parts of the fish and hope that we will be under lice limits within the week. We are also in close dialogue with the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, and will of course review and evaluate the situation when we are again below the limit,” says Nævdal-Bolstad about the situation at Rønstad.

Conditions for traditional farming in Canada are very good
This week also came a startling news from Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants all salmon farming in British Columbia to be done in closed facilities within five years. It could hit Mowi, who has operations in the area.

“We are of course following this debate with great interest, but this is currently a formulation in a party programme and not a proposal that has been politically promoted,” says Nævdal-Bolstad.

“We believe the conditions for traditional farming in Canada are very good, and believe a drastic change in the law like this will result in less value creation and fewer jobs. It is of course something that we, together with the rest of the industry, will be clear on whether the matter will be lifted again after the election,” concludes Nævdal-Bolstad.